Minority Drivers Get More Tickets
Julie Mehegan and Matt O’Brien, Sentinel and Enterprise (Fitchburg, MA), Jan. 22
BOSTON — Minority drivers in Fitchburg, Leominster and some surrounding communities are more likely to receive a written citation during a traffic stop than white drivers, according to data contained in an ongoing study of racial profiling released by state officials this week.
Fitchburg Police Chief Edward Cronin said he planned to fully investigate the statistics for his city, imploring other police departments to do the same.
“Be proactive about this,” Cronin said Wednesday. “Don’t stick your head in the sand.”
The study, ordered by the Legislature and conducted by the Institute for Race and Justice at Northeastern University, indicates that over a two-year period, 247 of 341 law enforcement agencies gave a greater proportion of tickets to non-white drivers, based on the population of minority drivers in the community.
For example, in Leominster, the study estimates the population of minority drivers at 14.9 percent. But 29.4 percent of the written citations issued in Leominster were given to minority drivers, resulting in a disparity of 14.5 percent.
Leominster and Fitchburg are among a total of 29 communities where the gap between the number of non-white drivers and the number of tickets issued to minority drivers exceeded 10 percent, according to the data in the study.
In Fitchburg, researchers estimated minority drivers make up an estimated 17.2 percent of the population, while 31.4 percent of tickets were issued to minority drivers, for a disparity of 14.2 percent.
“My first glance at it is, you know, we’re about the same as a lot of the similar communities we could compare to. Roughly the same,” Cronin said as he looked at figures for the city of Revere.
Cronin said some of the nuances of the statistics make it misleading, something he said state officials recognize.
He said estimates of minority populations may be too low.
He also said some immigrants may not be fully aware of all the motor vehicle laws and are more likely to be pulled over and cited.
“The root of it, a lot of it, is misinformation, or no information,” Cronin said.
State officials and the study’s authors caution that the report draws no conclusions as to how much, if it all, the practice of racial profiling contributes to the disparities in traffic citations.
“I haven’t seen anything that I’m aware of that would cause an issue of racial profiling in the city. I think the officers are very fair here,” Cronin said.
Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn called the release of the data an “absolutely essential first step … a point of departure in starting a dialogue on racial profiling in the state.”
Christine Cole, Flynn’s deputy chief of staff, said the study is a “useful tool.”
“It’s going to help us identify where potential problems may be and allow us to begin the conversation from both us to local law enforcement, as well as serve as a catalyst for local law enforcement to begin to do some work with their community folks, if they haven’t already,” Cole said.
Cronin, who took office at the end of 2002, said he’s been “dialoguing and working with people for well over a year now. I feel like we’re in a proactive position.”
Leominster Police Chief Peter Roddy did not return a call to his office.
The study was conducted at the direction of the Legislature, which passed a 2000 law designed to identify and eliminate racial and gender profiling. Police departments were required to submit information about gender and race on traffic citations, data on which the study was based.
The law also calls for Flynn to direct communities with significant disparities in the issuance of citations to track a year’s worth of citations, collecting data on every traffic stop, regardless of whether a citation is issued.
It is unclear what level of disparity will trigger the in-depth review, a level that will be determined by Flynn and Attorney General Thomas Reilly.
Two area communities, Shirley and Lancaster, are less likely to cite minority drivers, the data in the study indicated.
“I think the officers in general have been sensitive to (the issue of profiling) in the past couple of years,” said Shirley Police Chief Paul Thibodeau. “Of course, we’re a small department, too. It’s not something we would do.”
In Shirley, 16.1 percent of the citations were issued to non-white drivers, who make up an estimated 18.5 percent of the population.
Lancaster police issued 18 percent of its citations to minority drivers, in a community where 19.9 percent of the drivers are minorities.
“Shirley is nicely racially mixed, and we’re just not into that,” Thibodeau said.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.