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Task force to review state data on traffic stops

By Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent, 1/8/2003

    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

Governor Mitt Romney's public safety chief said yesterday that he would create a task force including minority community leaders to explore the causes of racial disparities in traffic tickets and vehicle searches, though he stopped short of saying police officers engaged in racial profiling.

However, Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn said he will wait, as the law allows, until he receives the results of a state-sponsored study by Northeastern University this spring before deciding whether to order police to collect more information about the circumstances of every traffic stop.

Flynn was responding to a Boston Globe study of every traffic ticket written in the state since April 2001, when a state law to monitor police for racial profiling took effect. The records show that black and Hispanic drivers are ticketed at a rate twice their percentage of the driving-age population, and are 50 percent more likely to be searched when ticketed.

The secretary, a former Chelsea police chief, offered no further details on the composition of the task force or when it will begin its work.

Flynn said he wanted to take quick action because the apparent racial disparities raise an issue ''of grave concern to the police industry,'' even though it's impossible to know without further study whether the disparities are caused by bias.

The Globe also reported that some police departments had large numbers of tickets with no race recorded, an omission that could skew the racial patterns of tickets and allow some departments to go without scrutiny.

Flynn, whose predecessors had not warned departments about the omissions, said he would send monthly reports to every police department noting the number of tickets without the required information.

While he waits for further information from the Northeastern study, Flynn said, he hopes his office and police departments can open a dialogue with the minority community over the issue.

''Perception is more important than the numbers,'' Flynn said. ''If we want the community to trust us, we have to deal with the perception.''

The head of the state's police chiefs association, which has been wary of studies of racial profiling that it feels target police unfairly, said he welcomed the task force, but called for more training and discipline of officers to root out bias.

''I think the state should do what the chiefs' association has already agreed to do: put resources toward ending racial profiling, real or perceived,'' said Edward M. Merrick Jr., Plainville's chief and president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. ''We don't need to go eyeball-deep into studies.''

''Whatever studies are done,'' Merrick said, ''are probably going to bear out what most chiefs believe already, that there are pockets of racial profiling in policing in Massachusetts. Police officers are human beings, and some human beings possess biases. What we do in training is to get them to recognize the bias that they have, but hang it up with their civilian jacket when they go to work.''

State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who sponsored the racial profiling law, endorsed Flynn's plan for a task force, and called on the secretary to meet with minority legislators to discuss further steps.

''It's not a bad idea,'' she said of the task force.

Flynn said that his task force could work with the Northeastern researchers and police chiefs to examine how disparities occur. An earlier committee formed by the state public safety office helped decide how to implement the anti-profiling law, which was enacted in 2000, but that committee included mostly police chiefs and state officials.

State law also gives Flynn the authority to order certain police departments - if their traffic tickets show large apparent disparities - to document every traffic stop, as has been done in some other states and cities.

But Flynn said he feared that the benefits from collecting more information might be outweighed by a cost to effective policing, because officers would fear making stops because they would result in more paperwork, especially in poorer neighborhoods that tend to be more heavily minority.

Flynn most recently was police chief in Arlington, Va., and also previously worked in Braintree. But he is known in the state for having turned around a troubled police department in Chelsea, one of the poorest and most heavily minority cities in the state. He said police will always deal more with poorer residents, who are more often minorities, and the poor want more policing, not less. He said the disparities found by the Globe could be caused by police being more vigorous in high-crime neighborhoods.

''We're the poor-people police,'' he said. ''This makes their trust in us essential. We can ill-afford cops backing off protecting those communities.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/8/2003.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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