New ACLU Report Shows Rhode Island Police Are Backsliding on Efforts to End Racial Profiling

August 8, 2005 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — According to a 15-page report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the latest statistics on police department traffic stops in the state show an increase in searches of racial minorities even as white drivers are more likely to be found with contraband when searches are conducted.

The statistics cover January through March 2005, the second quarter of a yearlong study mandated by state law. “The statistics for this latest quarter are very discouraging,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “While individually, some police departments are showing improvement in their practices, the data as a whole show that racial disparities across the state have increased since the first three months of this latest study. It is more critical than ever that police departments take concrete steps to address the issue.”

The new analysis follows a report released by the ACLU in May that examined traffic stop data from October to November 2004. The major findings contained in today’s report echo problems identified in the earlier report, as well as a previous 2001-2002 study. According to the data, minority drivers are still more than twice as likely as whites to be searched by police, but white drivers are more likely than racial minorities to be found with contraband when searched. But the ACLU said its latest analysis showed backsliding by a number of departments since the first quarter’s analysis.

The percentage of minorities searched, both in absolute numbers and in comparison to white drivers, was greater in the second quarter than in the first quarter of the study. Meanwhile, searches of white drivers were even more likely than in the first quarter to turn up contraband compared to the searches of minority drivers. Of the 21 police departments that conducted 60 or more searches during the six-month period of the study, 19 searched minorities at higher rates than they did whites. Eleven of those 21 departments have a higher racial disparity in searches for the first six months of this study than they had for 2001-2002.

During the second quarter of the study, the statewide discretionary search rate for all stopped drivers increased approximately 13 percent. However, despite this increase, searches were less productive than ever – only 22 percent revealed contraband, down from 27 percent in the previous quarter.

The ACLU today reiterated the need for implementation of a series of detailed recommendations contained in its May report. In particular, the ACLU emphasized the need for all police departments to prepare reports on a monthly basis confirming that traffic stop data have been reviewed for racial disparities, and indicating whether that review has found any patterns relating to officers, locations, or practices that may be responsible for the disparity.

“This type of review is the only sure way to get to the bottom of any disparity issues,” Brown said. “Unless and until that occurs, these disproportionate figures are almost inevitably bound to persist.”

The full report is available online at:

For more information on the first quarter analysis released in May, go to: /node/10985.

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