Latest Urbana traffic-stop data reveals rise in racial disparity

Latest Urbana traffic-stop data reveals rise in racial disparity

URBANA — Between July 1 and Nov. 20, black drivers were 66 percent more likely to be stopped by Urbana police than expected given the makeup of the city's population, according to new data shared with the city council Monday night.

Police crime analyst Melissa Haynes said that percentage is "consistently higher" than for other racial groups. It was up from 62 percent for the period covering the first six months of this year.

The new data also indicated that calls for police service happened mostly in areas with a high black populations. Haynes said more patrolling is done in those areas, which have histories of high calls for service.

When asked by Alderman Aaron Ammons if patrolling was the main reason for the disparity, police Chief Sylvia Morgan said it was one factor but not the only one.

Ammons then asked Morgan if implicit bias by officers also contributes to the racial disparity in traffic stops, and she said, "It's a possibility."

Ammons suggested finding a way to track if the training officers have recently undergone has had a positive effect.

"We'll need more time to measure the effects of it," Morgan said.

Council members were briefed on the data on the same night that it was announced that Urbana and the University of Illinois were awarded a federal National Institute of Justice grant to study community policing and police-community relations. Michael Schlosser, director of the UI's Police Training Institute, said the study will take place in local "hot spots" — areas with high crime and calls for service.

"Implicit bias is real; it's in the subconscious," Schlosser said. "It can be unlearned. We've found you need to be aware of it and own up to it."

Ammons agreed, saying: "Implicit bias takes a part in the disparity we see, and if we can't say that, we can't own it."

Among the other data provided to the council Monday night:

— Overall, there have been "significantly fewer stops" in 2017 than 2016, Haynes said.

— 61.37 percent of stops since July 1 were not part of Urbana police's Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, which targets problem areas.

— 72.52 percent of stops since July 1 were for moving violations, followed by equipment violations (18.35 percent) and license/registration violations (9.13 percent).

— 54.96 percent of stops since July 1 ended in citations, 40.07 percent ended in warnings and 4.96 percent ended with a more serious punishment.

The city's traffic stop task force has been meeting with council members and local pastors to discuss the data, along with a number of other topics, Haynes said — including property taxes, the need for jobs, rental property maintenance and management, neighborhood crime and civic education.

The council will discuss the new traffic stop data further at its next meeting, on Monday.

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GLG wrote on November 28, 2017 at 7:11 am

Maybe these  folks need to get their cars in compliance, all lights working, use your turn signals, stop speeding, turn down the noise, stop smoking reefer when driving, stop red light running.  Make sure you have front and rear license plates. Use your seatbelts, put down the phone.  Don't give the "man" a reason to pull you over. 

BruckJr wrote on November 28, 2017 at 8:11 am

Odd that the News Gazette never mentions the sexual disparity in these articles.  Were males and females stopped at the same rate?  How about age disparity.  Were teens and oldsters stopped at the same rate?

john wesley wrote on November 28, 2017 at 1:11 pm

  Maybe there is racial profiling going on, maybe there isn't.  It's an incomplete dataset.  You won't know for sure until another study is done that indicates the percentage of people who are doing things on the roadway that cause them to be pulled over, and the racial breakdown of that number.


   The classic example of course which ought to be cited in all such studies is the New Jersey Turnpike study that initially claimed black drivers were being unfairly targeted by the cops.  Then a second study revealed that in point of fact black folks were more likely to speed, percentage-wise, than white folks.  The statistical disparity was such that it completely wiped out the implication from the previous study that cops were targeting black folks.


    Which is not to say there couldn't be implicit bias at work somewhere or anywhere.  It's just that the study cited in this article is completely worthless without an independent study analyzing the percentage of folks who are speeding, driving without insurance or plates or who are inebriated, etc., etc.  


    Common sense would indicate that since cops are more frequently called to black neighborhoods that they are more likely to see errant behavior in those neighborhoods and therefore the percentages would be slanted that way.  But the underlying issue would not be in that instance racial bias but rather the problem of crime concentrated in black neighborhoods, which is not a problem that the police can either fix (on their own) or ignore.


    Now the right wing racists will crow triumphantly if it turns out there is no noticeable police bias in the UPD.  But not me and my crowd.  It just means the deeper issues need tending to as always, and that there is still much work to be done as a community.  I doubt very much the cops are the problem in Urbana (although if data were to indicate otherwise I would listen) but the cops can be a part of the solution even as we all can.  Mentoring programs, scholarships, subsidized daycare can all help.  But nothing, and I mean nothing, will be solved in the black community until dads and moms start living together again and taking care of their kids together again.  No government program or school will ever be a proper or sufficient substitute to an intact and loving family.