Study Finds Racial Disparities In RI Traffic Stops

Apr 27, 2018

Credit RIPR file photo

Drivers of color are more likely to be stopped during daylight hours, when police can more easily observe race and ethnicity, according to a review of Rhode Island's traffic stop data by Central Connecticut State University.

The study also found that Rhode Island police tend to be less successful with vehicle searches in stops involving drivers of color.

The study's authors said disparities in Rhode Island traffic stops were comparable to those found in a similar study in Connecticut.

"I believe this is the most comprehensive analysis of police traffic stop data that has been conducted in the state of Rhode Island to date," said Ken Barone, project manager for the study. "And the results of that analysis have shown that there are racial disparities."

The study found that 13 percent of traffic stops statewide involved Hispanic drivers, 11.4 percent were black. The analysis used a year's worth of traffic stop data, collected in 2016.

Barone described the study as a first step to addressing racial disparities in policing, but said more work needs to be done do understand what is "driving" these disparities.

The study singled out several police departments for further review, including Providence, Cranston, Narragansett and one State Police barracks. 

"The Rhode Island State Police is committed to providing fair, impartial and ethical law enforcement services to everyone in our community, regardless of race or ethnicity. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form," said State Police Col. Ann Assumpico in a written response to the study.

Project manager for the study, Ken Barone, said the study should not be seen as a condemnation of law enforcement, but it does show that disparities exist. 

"The end goal is to use data to bring together law enforcement and the communities they serve. To move this conversation beyond anecdotes," said Barone.

Other nuggets from the study include:

-- Municipality with the highest rate of traffic stops: Foster (by a lot!)

-- Municipality with the lowest rate of traffic stops: Providence (also by a lot!)

-- A majority of drivers stopped -- 63.4% -- were men

-- Only about half of drivers stopped received tickets, the other half got off with a warning

-- Community where a stop is most likely to result in a citation: Johnston (81.% of stopped drivers got tickets! Pawtucket wasn't too far behind at 75%)

-- Community where police are least likely to hand out a ticket: Newport (92% of drivers stopped received just a warning)