At a time when the relationship between police and minorities is under a microscope nationwide, a new study of five and a half years of Vermont State Police traffic stops shows signs of bias especially against African Americans.
The study conducted by Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice for the Vermont State Police was released Tuesday evening.
It analyzed more than 280,000 stops made by troopers between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2015.
It shows African Americans comprise point-nine percent of the state’s population and whites 94 percent. Black drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Five-point-one percent of black drivers were searched compared to 1.1 percent of white motorists, but contraband is more likely to be found in the vehicle with the white driver.
Although both white drivers and drivers of color are more likely to be issued a warning than a citation, white drivers received fewer citations.
Vermont State Police Director of Fair and Impartial Policing and Community Affairs Captain Ingrid Jonas says the data collection is part of a broader initiative to ensure fair and impartial policing. “We are out ahead of this. We want to know what our numbers are. We are not waiting to be prodded and told we have to do it. We did it before it was mandated. Number two is that this is part of a much, much broader comprehensive program that we're taking on to ensure fair and impartial policing at all levels in our department.”
Jonas explains that the data provided to the VSP can lead to awareness by individual troopers and help change practices. “If we are to learn that these disparities mean that implicit bias could be at the root or could be a part of why we have disparities then making members in our department aware of where they are in comparison to the vast majority of the members who don't have disparities that can be one way of changing behavior. Certainly training, taking a look at what nationally recognized training is available that can really assist us in a meaningful way.”
Civil rights attorney Robert Appel had retired as director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission before returning to private practice. He says similar reports have been issued for at least 15 years. “There’s a lot of work to be done. And unfortunately in my view the report did not disclose trends over time. And unfortunately the trends are getting worse, not better. So it’s disappointing. You know, I’m encouraged that the organization has made a strong commitment to addressing the issue. The hard part is to change behavior in the field. I’ve said over and over and over again over the last 15 years the way to address this problem is to maintain consistent focus, to develop strong policies, to do effective training on those policies and perhaps most importantly hold officers to account when they violate the policies. But the proof’s in the pudding and the pudding’s still pretty sour.