Thesis: Accident Investigation

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Racial Profiling

It seems that U.S. clearly has a long way to go until justice is a fact of life for all Americans of all ethnicities. Racial profiling is another example of racism that has seemed to become institutionalized in America, and some believe the only way for minorities to fight back has been to use their agency as citizens to convince elected officials that profiling does really happen. While not all law enforcement officers are guilty of stopping drivers based only on their skin color or ethnicity - in fact it is more likely that the number is small - there is a lot of evidence that some officers do in fact resort to profiling based on race with regard to traffic stops.

Indeed, Eighty-three percent of African-Americans believe Racial Profiling "is real," according to a Gallup poll in 2001. In Illinois, there is a law against racial profiling ("The Illinois Racial Profiling Law"); all law enforcement departments are required to report details of traffic stops. The 2004 results, according to Northwestern University Institute on Race and Justice, show that while there is no "statewide pattern of racial bias," in many communities, "minority drivers are two to three times as likely to be the subject of a 'consent search'," a search of the driver's vehicle with permission of the driver, when no "probable cause" was presented by the officer. All the data gathered by Illinois is tainted, however, because over 50 police agencies "failed to provide data as required by law," Northwestern University reported. And also, there is "no penalty" for failure to provide data.

Meanwhile, an article in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology (Ridgeway, 2006) reports that due to the public perception that many traffic officers stop drivers based on race, police departments across the nation are gathering data on traffic stops. When the use of "discretion" appears to side "consistently against minorities," then "trust in the fairness of 'the system' degrades," Ridgeway explains. There is a history involved with police and the issue of racial profiling; in fact, Ridgeway writes that in the 1950s the American Bar Association revealed that police in general believed they did not have to determine if a law was being broken or not before stopping citizens on the highways.

Subsequent to the 1950s, more attention has been paid to the fact that there must be discretion used during traffic stops. But the question remains today as to how effective can law enforcement be in any event, by simply stopping an automobile because the driver is black. In his article, Ridgeway points to a series of studies in 2002 in which "the hit rate" (the rate of recovery of some kind of drug or illegal substance) was "higher for whites detained by police than blacks or Latinos" (Ridgeway, 2006).

In addition, Ridgeway relates to a field observation project that involved a team made up of a judge, a prosecutor, and an attorney; this team conducted field operations on 115 police searches. When the final report came out, it was revealed that 30% of the police searches observed were "unconstitutional" (Ridgeway, 2006). This is of course unacceptable for law-abiding citizens.

One problem that is there are not many good methods for use by law enforcement in order to gather and analyze data regarding questionable traffic stops.

Meanwhile, Ridgeway explains that the decision the officer makes to pull a car over is just the first stage in the process. At each stage of the traffic stop, there can be a kind of racial bias enter into that scenario, the author continues. A decision can be made based on racial criteria regarding whether or not to write a ticket; a decision can be made to detain a driver for an extended period of time; to ask the occupant to get out of the car, and a decision can be made based on ethnicity to conduct a "pat search for weapons."

Of course there are some situations during which law enforcement have a duty to search a driver, such as when the occupant is wanted on an outstanding warrant, or when he is on probation or parole and appears to be in violation of his probation or parole.

Data compiled by the author in this article show that in Oakland, California, 45% of traffic stops involving African-American drivers lasted less than 10 minutes while 71% of traffic stops involving Caucasian drivers lasted less than 10 minutes. That seems very obviously to be prejudice-based data. So with those data, how can a researcher fairly make a comparison? There has to be more information to go along with that raw information first presented. For example, to be fair, it has to be factored in that 36% of the stops of black drivers happened at night between 8:00 P.M. And 4:00 A.M.; as to the stops of white drivers, only 16% of them occurred between 8:00 P.M. And 4:00 A.M.

Looking at those figures, could any objective researcher tell whether the difference in the amount of time taken for the various traffic stops was because of the race of the driver - or, perhaps, because traffic officers take more time at night? This is the tricky part of the overall investigation into whether traffic stops are based on the color of the driver's skin, or not. There are other variables that go into the amount of time a typical traffic stop takes, as well. For example police working in high crime neighborhoods "may approach vehicles more cautiously and pat search regardless of the driver's race," simply because it's the profession thing to do when neighborhoods are known to have high crime rates.

And so it is reasonable to realize there is much more involved in the process of determining the nature of a traffic stop than just a black and white result; the bottom line is that researchers have to be fully informed as to all the variables that go into traffic stops, not just who was stopped and why.

Another article dealing with this issue is published in the International Journal of Police Science & Management (Vito, 2006). This piece is written by a professor in the Department of Justice Administration at the University of Louisville (Gennaro Vito) who joined with the director of the Southern Police Institute (William Walsh) in Louisville in doing the research. The article suggests that the concept of "suspicion" is an "understudied" factor in traffic stops.

The authors reference a study in which 2,600 traffic stops were conducted by police in the city of Richmond Virginia during the period February and March in the year 2000. African-Americans were "disproportionately stopped" during that time period, the study found. That having been pointed out, a closer look at the data shows that white drivers were more likely to have been ticketed or arrested during those 2,600 traffic stops and African-Americans, while more likely to be stopped, were also more likely to receive warnings, not tickets.

Another study in Wichita, Kansas, showed that black drivers were more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested "whether they were in a predominately black neighborhood or not" (Vito, et al., 2006). Yet another study was conducted in 92 cities and towns in Missouri; in that research it was determined that black drivers were 17% more likely than whites and 55% more likely than Hispanics to be pulled over by police. Another bit of traffic research in Missouri revealed that while white drivers made up 87% of all drivers, they represented 73% of "the proactive police queries" (Vito, p. 90).

But aside from being stopped, it was found that in the years 2001-2002 there were over 61,000 traffic stops in Missouri and African-American and Hispanic drivers "were no more likely to be in possession of contraband than drivers of other racial/ethnic… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Accident Investigation.  (2008, December 5).  Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/accident-investigation/9018

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"Accident Investigation."  5 December 2008.  Web.  20 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/accident-investigation/9018>.

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"Accident Investigation."  Essaytown.com.  December 5, 2008.  Accessed July 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/accident-investigation/9018.