Traffic stops account for the majority of interactions between police officers and the public. And a recent study says during those interactions, black and Hispanic drivers are policed more heavily than white drivers.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined publicly available information from 132 agencies in 16 states. They looked at how likely police are to pull over a driver and how race affects that likelihood.
Out of 55 million stops — on average — blacks and Hispanics were twice as likely to be searched as white drivers. Illinois law enforcement agencies had the highest black to white and Hispanic to white search rates.
The study has limitations, including the fact that information isn't publicly available from all 50 states. And we don't know if the searches actually helped law enforcement protect and serve their respective communities.
But the information is important considering the number of Department of Justice investigations into biased policing.
In 2016, we reported on at least one example of biased policing in Ferguson, Missouri. The Justice Department found that Ferguson law enforcement officers were overzealously ticketing drivers — mainly people of color — to contribute to the city's revenue.
The study's researchers say they hope analyzing this type of data will help highlight and explain disparities in policing and, ultimately, lead to reforms.