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Chiefs deny racial profiling in traffic stops

By Brenda J. Buote, Globe Staff, 5/9/2004

    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

Police chiefs throughout Boston's northern suburbs are calling for a more detailed analysis of traffic enforcement patterns in their communities after the release last week of a report that indicates minority drivers are disproportionately stopped for traffic violations by four out of five local police departments.

"Obviously, no police chief in Massachusetts would feel good about any type of racial profiling; we want to do what's right," said Newbury Police Chief Roger Merry, whose community was one of seven in the region that was not cited in the report, a state-sponsored study of 1.6 million traffic citations issued in 341 communities between April 1, 2001, and June 30, 2003.

"There are a lot of factors in this report that blur the picture," said Merry. "We need to grind the prescription down to where we have a real clear view of what's happening, and everything is brought into focus. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the case right now. I think the major newspapers looked at the data in the report and drew certain conclusions, without letting the facts interfere with the story."

Added Lynn Police Chief John Suslak: "To suggest that because a police department is listed as having racial disparities that equates to racial profiling is just plain wrong. In this case, A and B doesn't add up to C."

Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice conducted the analysis of traffic citations to provide Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn with a list of police departments that have shown racial or gender disparities, which may indicate racial or gender profiling. Statewide, 249 police departments, including 30 of the 37 municipal police departments in the North region, showed racial or gender disparities in either ticketing or searches, according to the report.

Danvers, with about 25,000 residents, was the largest community in the region to earn a passing grade in every category. In addition to Newbury, the others in the clear were Boxford, Essex, Hamilton, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Middleton.

Lynn and Peabody were the only area police departments that showed racial disparity in each of four statistical tests: ticketing resident minorities more than whites, compared with their share of the resident population, as judged by the 2000 Census; ticketing all minorities more than whites, compared with their share of the community's drivers, as estimated by Northeastern; searching minorities more often than whites; and issuing warnings to whites more often than to minorities.

After releasing the report Tuesday, Flynn was quick to point out that a disparity does not mean that a police department is engaging in racial profiling. He noted that the disparities could be the result of several factors, including good police work in minority communities that have requested increased traffic enforcement.

In Swampscott, which failed one of the four tests -- ticketing all minorities more than whites, compared with their share of the community's drivers, as estimated by Northeastern -- Police Chief Ronald J. Madigan said the disparity could be the result of flawed assumptions on the part of the researchers.

Traffic enforcement in Swampscott is focused on three main arteries: Routes 1A and 129, and Essex Street, Madigan said, noting that 76 percent of the traffic citations issued in the town last year were issued to motorists on those streets, which are heavily traveled by out-of-town drivers.

"We're still looking in-depth at the data, but we believe the conclusions reached in the study may be inaccurate because the researchers underestimated our minority driving population, which includes many out-of-town motorists from the more racially diverse communities that border us, such as Lynn and Salem," said Madigan, who has taken steps to ensure that his department does not engage in racial profiling. Each of the department's 35 sworn officers has participated in the past month in training sessions on racial profiling.

"If there's a problem, I want to know about it," said Madigan, who is analyzing the roughly 1,600 citations his department issued last year. "We abhor the notion that anyone may be engaged in racial profiling. We've looked at the records of individual officers, and everyone looks about the same -- so why the disparity [in Northeastern's report]? The likeliest answer is that the number of minorities being issued citations is reflective of the population our officers encounter while on patrol."

Flynn, Chelsea's former police chief, has ordered Swampscott and every other department that failed any of the tests to complete additional paperwork every time they pull over a motorist. Police departments can appeal Flynn's decision to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.

The new traffic forms, which have not yet been designed, will provide Flynn with additional information about each stop, including the reason for the stop, the reason for any search, whether any contraband was found in the search, and the time and location of the stop, which is written on traffic tickets in Massachusetts but is not submitted to the state. The driver's race and gender, and the officer's name and ID number, also will be recorded.

"This is a very diverse department," said Suslak, who commands a staff that includes 182 officers. "Everyone in this department knows where I stand on the issue of racial profiling; they know where my deputy stands on it, and the position of the command staff. More importantly, the officers themselves would not tolerate it.

"I'm still trying to digest the report, as a lot of chiefs are, but I believe that when we take an in-depth look at the data, we'll find that it is flawed," Suslak added. "I know some of the people who worked on this study, and they are professionals of good intent, but there is a real level of frustration with this report."

The lawyer for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, John M. Collins, has criticized Northeastern's findings, disputing estimates of how many nonwhite motorists are on the road in certain communities.

Police chiefs in eight communities statewide, including Swampscott, conducted their own road surveys this spring, counting races by observing faces of drivers in high-traffic areas. In every case, they found that the number of nonwhite drivers was higher than Northeastern had estimated, thus lowering the disparity.

Globe correspondent Bill Dedman contributed to this report. Brenda J. Buote may be reached via e-mail at

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