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WV Traffic Stops: Minorities More Likely To Be Searched, Less Likely To Have Drugs

September 14, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In the interim before the next state legislative session, a joint West Virginia House and Senate committee and a House Judiciary subcommittee are considering how to address racial profiling in traffic stops in the state. A study of more than 300,000 stops found minorities to be more likely to be pulled over and to be searched than whites. The study also found that those searches of minorities were less likely to find contraband.

Stephen Haas, who is the director of the West Virginia Statistic Analysis Center at the Division of Criminal Services, administered the study for the Division of Criminal Justice. Haas says that in the thousands of traffic stops they looked at, minorities were more likely to draw the attention of police.

"Minorities were roughly one-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped than whites, and roughly two-and-a-half times more likely to be searched."

Haas says one striking thing they found is a disparity once the cars were searched.

"With minorities, blacks and Hispanics in particular, there was much less success at finding contraband. It calls into question: What was the reason behind the search in the first place, if you didn't find anything?"

The ACLU says it may ask lawmakers to change the rules by which drivers consent to be searched, and might ask for more money for video recording of traffic stops.

Nationally, blacks are seven times more likely to be imprisoned than whites, mostly for drug charges. But Haas says repeated national studies have found proportionally similar levels of blacks and whites using drugs.

"When you look at the self-report figures, you see that it's more evenly distributed. For some drugs, whites are more likely to have used."

Critics of these kinds of studies say they add a burden on police and threaten to undermine their authority. But many police departments have publicly welcomed the attention on racial profiling.

A PDF copy of the West Virginia Traffic Stop study is available online at:
www.wvdcjs.com

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV