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Tickets to fix


    On city boulevards and rural lanes, whites and women are far more likely to receive written warnings instead of tickets when stopped for identical traffic offenses, according to a Boston Globe study of newly released state records.


Police plan public meeting

Chiefs deny racial profiling

Civil rights advocates laud plan

Police chiefs decry study

Racial profiling is confirmed
Northeastern study [PDF]
Report summary
Who got a passing grade?
Police response [MS Word]

Police flouting 'no fix' law on tickets

Profiling study cites dozens of locales Charts
Northeastern study [PDF]

Reilly starts push to end profiling in police stops

Boston police to get tough on tickets

Judge: Suspect must stay in jail

Seeing bias, evidence tossed

Deeper look at profiling

Funding urged for study

Ticketing cited despite curbs

Romney backs profile tracking
People asked to join task force

Chief: Glitch caused error

Task force to review data


Day 1:
Race, sex, and age drive ticketing
Minority officers are stricter on minorities
Boston to track all stops by police

Who gets fined for speeding
Minority officers
Most-favored status
One officer's week

Ticketing whites vs. minorities
Large departments | All

Ticketing women vs. men
Large departments | All

Day 2:
Punishment varies by town and officer

How tickets raise insurance
Ranking the departments
Littering is worse?

Toughest on speeders
Large departments | All
Locals vs. out-of-towners
Large departments | All

Day 3:
Troopers fair, tough in traffic encounters

Frequent ticketers
How fast can you go?

Editorial: Tickets to fix
Op-Ed: Looking deeper
Op-Ed: Study proves nothing
Profiles in prejudice


Q & A
Secretary of Public Safety Edward A. Flynn, the senior law enforcement official in Massachusetts, spoke with the Globe about this series. Q & A

Detailed report
A closer look at how the Globe analyzed hundreds of thousands of traffic tickets.
Download study
This .PDF document requires Adobe Acrobat

Online chat
Globe reporter Bill Dedman chatted with readers about this series.
Read full transcript


In January, the Globe published the first results of its analysis.

Part 1:
Citations reveal disparity
Totals key to computations

Tracking tickets
Searches by race and age

Searching minorities more often
Ticketing their own

Part 2:
Police not pressed on race
Tewksbury cop is tops
Fridays worst for tickets
Scope of monitoring reduced

Where race was not recorded

Failing to record the race
Searching more cars

OFFICER DISCRETION will always be a major part of police work. But the judgments of police officers are not infallible and demand the strictest scrutiny when they result in significant disparities in traffic enforcement based on the race of drivers. A three-part Globe series that concluded yesterday provides insights on the most common but underanalyzed interaction between police and the public: traffic stops. State records reveal that whites in Massachusetts are less likely to receive tickets than minorities when pulled over by local police for identical offenses. During a two-month period in 2001, 31 percent of white motorists received tickets for speeding at 45 m.p.h in a 30-m.p.h zone, a common offense. Yet 49 percent of minorities received tickets for the same violation. This is unacceptable.

The Globe study raises the possibility not only of racial bias but so-called depolicing, a tendency by some officers to respond less actively to certain people or situations. It may seem harmless when an officer applies a ''hometown advantage'' to a local speeder in the form of a written warning. But the credibility of the entire department is undermined when outsiders are ticketed for a similar or lesser offense. And public trust in the police collapses when race or gender determines the outcome of the interaction.

Citing additional paperwork and even difficulties in determining a driver's ethnicity, some police officials resisted the 2000 state law that requires officers to record the race of motorists during traffic stops. But persistent complaints of racial profiling make clear that comprehensive data are needed to ensure fairness. And Massachusetts has far to go in the area of data collection.

All confirmed speeders, by definition, deserve tickets. Yet many drivers, especially younger white women, escape with just a warning. The collection and examination of those warnings are key to ensuring equal enforcement. Centralized data, however, are available only for April, May, and part of June 2001, when the Registry of Motor Vehicles had the will and money to record the information. An estimated 1.5 million unanalyzed warning notices issued since the passage of the racial profiling law sit in a Randolph warehouse.

Even if a supplemental budget appropriation is required, that data -- or at least a reliable sample -- should be collated. State law demands that police departments found to engage in racial profiling be subject to even stricter data collection. But these departments are hard to identify because profiling practices remain hidden away in unexamined files.

Police supervisors should not sit idle awaiting automated assistance from the state. In Boston, where the Globe found sharp disparities in ticketing based on race, police officials are expanding data collection to include all encounters with the public, not just traffic stops.

The state's Division of Insurance should also examine future findings. The Globe study estimated that minority drivers pay $6.4 million extra in fines and insurance premiums over the course of a year. Scofflaws should pay higher premiums. But the current system corrupts the pool.

Evenhandedness is never too much to ask of a police officer. The Massachusetts State Police appear to conduct their traffic enforcement duties without favoritism or bias, according to the Globe study. Secretary of Public Safety Edward Flynn should use the State Police statistics as a base line when evaluating other departments. Simple fairness is not an unattainable goal.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 7/23/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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