The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) posted an analysis by Central Connecticut State University’s (CCSU) Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) of traffic stops on its website today. The analysis studied traffic stops by 37 municipal police departments, the Rhode Island State Police (RISP), the University of Rhode Island (URI) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act (CCPRA) requires RIDOT to be the recipient of data from police departments throughout the state regarding traffic stops. RIDOT does not analyze this data or draw conclusions from it.

The report contains an analysis of approximately 237,000 traffic stops made in Rhode Island between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. Six statistical and descriptive tests were applied to each department’s data, making this one of the most comprehensive analyses conducted nationally.

The findings presented in the report are the first step – essentially the foundation – of a process to better understand how enforcement of traffic laws impacts segments of Rhode Island’s driving population. These initial analyses serve as a screening tool, highlighting areas where disparities between races and ethnicities are greatest in traffic enforcement throughout the state, thereby providing guidance as where to focus attention and resources for the next step of the process across the state.

A group of stakeholders that included both police departments and community members met regularly over the time the data was collected and provided input on the analysis of the data. Those stakeholders include; Rhode Island for Community and Justice (RICJ), Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR), Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association (RIPCA), Rhode Island State Police (RISP), and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A total of 11.4 percent of motorists stopped were observed to be Black and 13 percent to be Hispanic. The analysis found that stopped motorists were more likely to be perceived by the stopping officers as minorities during daylight relative to darkness suggesting the existence of a racial or ethnic disparity in terms of the treatment of minority motorists relative to white motorists. The analysis also found that Rhode Island police departments exhibited a tendency to be less successful finding contraband in motorist searches involving minority drivers.   There are no clear links in these observed disparities to racial profiling as they may be driven by any combination of policing policy, heterogeneous enforcement patterns, or individual officer behavior.

The results also showed that four municipal departments and one state police barracks exhibited statistical disparities that warrant further analysis. These departments are: Cranston, Narragansett, North Smithfield, Providence, and the Hope Valley Rhode Island State Police Barracks.

Ken Barone, CCSU’s IMRP project manager said, “We first try to answer the question, do racial and ethnic disparities exist in traffic stop and search data? This analysis shows that Rhode Island has racial and ethnic disparities in its traffic stop and search data. However, the more challenging question to answer is, what are the factors contributing to those racial and ethnic disparities?”

There are many reasons for disparities to exist. By examining factors such as the location of crashes, calls for service records, crime patterns, and areas of major traffic generators, law enforcement administrators and the public will gain a better understanding of the nature of policing and the variety of factors that influence traffic enforcement in each individual community.

All four departments and the one state police barracks identified in this report have already met with IMRP researchers to begin examining the factors that may be contributing to racial and ethnic disparities. It is during this part of the process that policymakers, citizens and law enforcement can best come together to understand and address the disparities present in those departments’ traffic stops. A full follow-up report with findings and recommendations for each identified department will be published in the coming weeks.

For more information or for a copy of the Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings, 2016 report, go to www.dot.ri.gov/community/CCPRA.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).