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Boston police to get tough on tickets

Racial profiling spurs plan to limit warnings

By Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent, 1/17/2004

    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

If you speed or run a red light in the city of Boston, your chance of getting off with a warning may have just disappeared.

To combat racial profiling, Boston's interim police commissioner yesterday issued guidelines that strongly encourage officers to write tickets -- not warnings -- to drivers who commit "high-priority violations": speeding at least 10 miles per hour over the limit, failing to stop for a red light or stop sign, failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, or illegally passing a school bus.

The rule is intended to lessen the chance that police officers are injecting bias, intentionally or unintentionally, when deciding which drivers they give tickets to, said James M. Hussey, interim police commissioner. If police officers routinely issue tickets for the most serious traffic offenses, they'll be treating drivers of all races, sexes, and ages equally.

"If some drivers who blow through a light are given a ticket and others a warning, that obviously isn't consistent," Hussey said.

Boston's new rule stops short of ordering police to write only tickets. The police chief in Newton tried such an order last February, for violations at accident-prone intersections. But police officers sued, and a state court struck down Chief Jose M. Cordero's order as an infringement on the discretion of police officers. While Newton's case is appealed, Boston's new rule acknowledges the discretion of officers, but makes a strong recommendation for consistent issuance of tickets -- backed up by strict supervision by commanding officers.

"Any officer who observes a high-priority violation shall, whenever practicable, take immediate enforcement action," the rule says. "While mitigating circumstances may be considered, civil citations should generally be the enforcement action taken for high-priority violations."

The city is involved in contentious negotiations with its employee unions on new contracts, but Hussey said he had obtained assurances from each of the police unions on the new rule. They didn't promise to endorse it, but they did agree not to oppose it, Hussey said.

The president of the largest police union disagreed. "It's outrageous. It's not going to happen," said Thomas J. Nee, president of the Boston Patrolmen's Association. "It's an insult to every working police officer in the city. And it removes the necessary mechanism of discretion."

A Globe examination found that Boston police officers exercise broad discretion when deciding whether to issue a ticket. Fully half of the traffic citations written by Boston police during a test period in 2001 were warnings, not tickets, according to a tally last year by the Globe -- and that doesn't count other drivers who were let go with a verbal warning. And there was great variation among officers: while some wrote only tickets during the two months studied, others wrote only warnings. As in other communities in the state, Boston police overall were more likely to ticket black and Hispanic drivers, especially men, while tending to warn whites and women for the same offenses.

A state-sponsored study of the same records is expected soon from Northeastern University researchers, putting racial profiling back in the public eye.

Hussey and his deputies have taken several steps to stay ahead of the issue. They have held several meetings with minority community leaders and civil liberties groups to assure them that the department takes the issue of racial profiling seriously.

"It appears on its face that we have some institutional and administrative issues in regard to profiling," Hussey said in the interview. " The bottom line, whether racial profiling is a perception or a reality, is that it has the potential to harm our relationship with the community."

A written warning is not generally recorded and has no legal or financial cost, while a ticket carries a heavy price: The minimum speeding ticket in the state is now $100, and the insurance cost of a single ticket is $350 over six years for the typical driver.

The Boston Police Department also volunteered last summer to begin collecting more racial information on every police encounter with a citizen, pedestrians as well as drivers. Also, supervisors have added fairness in ticketing to the personnel meetings in which supervisors evaluate the performance of officers.

"We want to continue with an open and honest discussion on racial profiling," Hussey said.

The new rule on traffic enforcement requires district commanders to strictly supervise officers.

And officers starting out on their rounds must make sure they're packing one piece of equipment that some may have neglected. "All officers," the rule says, "shall have their motor vehicle citation books readily available."

Globe correspondent Donovan Slack contributed to this article. Bill Dedman can be reached at

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