White Women More Likely Ticketed when Pulled Over
Ian Demsky, Tennesseean.com, Mar. 4
Ticket in hand, Richard Taylor stood outside Nashville traffic court and spoke his mind about who he thinks gets a ticket and who gets off with a warning when stopped by police.
Most likely to get a ticket?
“Young black men,” said Taylor, 39, an African-American.
And most likely to get a warning?
“Old white people,” he said.
But a Tennessean analysis of Metro police traffic stop data from 2003 shows that perception is not true.
According to the data, white women were most likely to get ticketed when pulled over by police — 93.3% of the time. By comparison, black men were ticketed 88.2% of the time they were stopped.
The newspaper’s analysis compared only the percentage of stops in which motorists were ticketed — not the overall numbers of tickets given to different demographic groups. Of 126,000 stops last year, motorists were ticketed 91% of the time.
The ticketing rates do not vary greatly for different racial and gender groups — they were within 6 percentage points of each other.
“Those numbers seem to indicate balanced enforcement,” said Jack McDevitt, associate dean of College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. ”That’s what we’re all looking for.”
McDevitt also said the rate of citations was fairly high compared to other parts of the country.
Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas, who has stepped up traffic enforcement since taking over the department in January, said he doesn’t expect the percentage of stops that lead to tickets to grow significantly.
“My message to my officers is that I don’t expect them to issue a citation to everyone they stop,” he said. ”It’s built on discretion.”
Deciding when to issue a ticket and when to give a warning is left to individual officers and is not regulated by police policy.
“The officers are using their experience and knowledge. I can’t second-guess every decision they make,” Serpas said.
Giving a warning can also help remind people to pay more attention to their driving, he said.
“What we’re out to do is change behavior,” Serpas said. ”The No. 1 predictor for collisions is failing to pay attention.”
So far this year, injury crashes in Nashville are down about 8%, Serpas said.
Statistics that only describe who gets a ticket don’t tell the whole story, experts say.
David Harris, a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law and author of Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work, said there are subtle ways police bias can affect who gets stopped for a ticket.
Harris said bias can sometimes be found in the types of people officers stop for having a cracked tail light, a headlight out, tinted windows or items hanging from the rearview mirror.
Police might also have a tendency to stop some motorists to a greater or lesser degree than they are represented in the population of drivers. For example, the Tennessean analysis showed far more men pulled over than women.
Taylor, the motorist outside traffic court in Nashville, said he’s received about half a dozen tickets over the years and has never been let off with a warning.
“They got me for speeding,” he said with a smile Wednesday afternoon. ”It’s OK. I was speeding.”
Kim Newson, 38, an African-American, who was with Taylor on Wednesday, said she had ”never, never, never” been given a warning either, ”just tickets.”
According to police figures, Newson is less likely than a white woman her age to get a ticket if stopped — but she said she doesn’t believe it.
Serpas said the police department faces a challenge changing public perceptions because people are much more likely to discuss bad experiences with police than good ones.
“Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that 97% of cops are getting it right,” he said. ”Some are getting it wrong. We need to correct their behavior so those 3% don’t hold the other 97% hostage.”
Another common perception is that women, especially young and pretty ones, are more likely to be given warnings.
In 2003, women got tickets in 92.3% of stops, compared to 90.3% for men — although almost twice as many men were stopped, the data showed. Motorists age 16-25 got tickets in 91.85% of stops, compared to 88.7% for those 61-70.
Women in almost every age and racial category were more likely to get tickets than their male counterparts. But Hispanic women ages 16-25 and 36-45 were less likely than Hispanic men to be ticketed.
As a group, white women were more likely to get a ticket than anybody else.
White women between 16 and 25 were the second-most-likely demographic to get a ticket. Asian women between 36 and 45 were more likely to get ticket when stopped. But they were stopped fewer times — 54 for the year, compared to 8,359 for white women 16 to 25.
Veteran Metro traffic officer Foster Hite said he hardly ever gives breaks to anyone stopped for a moving violation, such as speeding or running a stop sign.
The warnings he gives are usually to people who have a broken headlamp or tail light. They most likely make up many of those 9% of people who, on average, don’t receive a citation, he said.
And Hite said he always checks to see whether they’ve been stopped for the same thing previously. If they have, there’s a good chance they’ll get a ticket.
“I try to treat everybody the same,” said Hite, who has at times written more than 300 tickets a month.
If anything, Hite is more likely to write a ticket to young violators in an attempt to curb their errant behavior early.
“If I write them a ticket and they attended a safe driving video, it may benefit them more than letting them go,” he said.
Occasionally Hite will give a break to an interstate speeder who fails to drop from 70 mph to 55 mph on the highways approaching Nashville.
“Attitude does have a lot to with it,” he said. ”But we’re just trying to slow people down and save lives.”
Hilario Navarro, 24, a Hispanic man, was on his way to see his father who was leaving for Mexico the next day when he was stopped for going 41 mph in a 30 mph zone. He also spoke to The Tennessean outside traffic court.
Navarro said he was kind and respectful as he explained to the officer that he wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice the speed limit had changed. It didn’t help.
“The way I talked to him, I think he would have given a ticket to anybody,” Navarro said.
We asked visitors to Tennessean.com who they thought was the most likely to get off without a traffic ticket during a stop by police. Most who responded indicated that women and white and older drivers would be more likely to get off.
But Metro police figures show that people’s perceptions don’t match reality.
Who do you think is more likely to get off without a traffic ticket?
Women, 86.8%; men, 13.2%
Whites, 73.2%; minorities, 26.8%
Old, 88%; young, 12%
Source: Online Tennessean Survey Conducted Thursday And Friday, Based On More Than 300 Responses