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Tennessee Report Shows Blacks, Hispanics Stopped More Often

March 21, 2002
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Tennessee Report Shows Blacks, Hispanics Stopped More Often

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A new state study shows police stop black and Hispanic drivers at a higher rate than white motorists, but officials warn the data does not mean racial profiling is the cause.

"We're really not able to say from the data we have, 'There is racial profiling,' or 'There is not racial profiling,' " said Dan Cohen-Vogel, one of the authors of a report studying the traffic stops of 44 police agencies in the state during 2001.

The study by the state Comptroller's office was requested by the General Assembly in 2000. Six county sheriff's departments, one university police department and 37 city police departments volunteered to participate. They ranged from the state's four major cities to small towns such as Jellico, Union City and Ripley.

The report found blacks accounted for 39 percent of the traffic stops and 31 percent of the population over the age of 18.

Hispanics made up 2.6 percent of the traffic stops, and whites 55 percent.

The report compared the number of drivers by race who were stopped to the racial makeup of the county's or city's population, and found blacks were stopped at a higher rate than whites.

Cohen-Vogel, a legislative research analyst with the comptroller's office, said using that comparison "provides an incomplete and potentially misleading picture."

A better comparison, he said, would have been the number of motorists stopped as a proportion of licensed drivers, but that data was not available.

Another potential problem, he said, is that the numbers did not account for commuters, tourists and college students - groups that do not necessarily have the same racial mix as the population of the area in which they are driving.

It was also up to the officer to determine the race of the person stopped, rather than the question asked of the driver. The report mentions anecdotes given to the Comptroller's office about officers mistaking American Indians for Hispanics and other similar mistakes.

Other findings of the report:

-A higher percentage of Hispanic drivers were stopped on suspicion of criminal behavior than other racial groups.

-A higher percentage of Asians were stopped for moving violations, such as speeding or running a traffic light.

-A higher percentage of Hispanics were stopped for equipment violations, such as a light out.

-Dispositions of the traffic stops also varied by race. There were five options: a verbal warning, a written warning, citation, arrest, or arrest and citation.

-Officers issued the highest percentages of verbal warnings to Hispanics, followed by Asians, whites and blacks.

-Officers gave written warnings most frequently to whites, followed by Hispanics, Asians and blacks.

-Citations were issued in the highest percentage to Asians, blacks, whites and Hispanics.

-Officers made the highest percentage of arrests of Hispanics, followed by blacks, whites and Asians.

-The highest percentage of arrest-and-citation were of Hispanics, followed by blacks, whites and Asians.

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