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Massachusetts Racial and Gender Profiling Final Report

Executive Summary

May 4, 2004

Northeastern University Institute on Race and Justice

The goal of this report is to answer the mandate of Chapter 228 of the Acts of 2000 to identify and provide to the Secretary of Public Safety a listing of state police units or municipalities that appear to have engaged in racial or gender profiling. Using data on traffic citations and written warnings collected by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, this study examines the existence of racial and gender disparities in approximately 1.6 million traffic citations issued between April 1, 2001 and June 30, 2003. The citations analyzed in this report were received from the Massachusetts State Police, 340 municipal police departments and 25 other special police units.

The intent of the Massachusetts legislation was to identify communities with racial or gender disparities which may be suggestive of racial profiling and to require those communities to collect additional information on traffic enforcement to determine if the disparities identified could be explained by factors other than race or gender. This model for dealing with allegations of racial and gender profiling is unique nationally and was intended to minimize the data collection burden on those departments where no indication of racial or gender profiling exists.

It is important to note at the outset that research on racial profiling in traffic enforcement is a relatively new area of inquiry. Although numerous studies have begun to address questions of differential treatment in traffic stops, no absolute consensus exists about the best way to determine disparities. Racial disparities in citations can result from a number of factors that social scientists are just beginning to understand. Bias on the part of an individual officer is only one of several possible explanations for disparities in citations. Although the Massachusetts data does not allow for definitive findings of racial profiling on the part of individual officers or within a department, it does identify those jurisdictions with substantial racial or gender disparities in traffic citations.


Although there are limits to the types of questions that traffic citation data can answer, this study addresses four different questions that commonly arise in public concern over racial profiling to determine if racial or gender disparities existed in any of the 366 jurisdictions who submitted data to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

1. Are non-white drivers who are residents in a community cited more often than their representation in the residential population would predict?

2. Are non-white drivers overall cited more often their representation in the population of people driving on the roadways would predict?

3. Once stopped, are non-white drivers more likely to be subject to a search than white drivers?

4. Once stopped, are non-white drivers more likely to receive a citation than white drivers?   Continued...

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