Report: No evidence of racial bias in Washington State Patrol stops

The researchers analyzed data on more than 7 million interactions with the public from 2015 through 2019

By Angela Palermo
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
PULLMAN, Wash. — Researchers with the Division of Governmental Studies and Services at Washington State University found no evidence for systemic racial bias after analyzing five years of Washington State Patrol traffic stops.

Incidents of racial profiling within law enforcement have drawn increased scrutiny in recent years.

According to a news release, Washington State Patrol contracted with WSU in 2020 to examine the agency's traffic stop records for evidence of racial bias.

A Washington State Patrol trooper staffs a vehicle checkpoint Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.
A Washington State Patrol trooper staffs a vehicle checkpoint Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

"This research connects the expertise of Washington's land-grant university to a pressing public issue," Christina Sanders, director of WSU's Division of Governmental Studies and Services, said. "Our results help inform policy and public dialogue for the better, offering opportunities for improved in-person interactions with the people of our state, fine-tuning of trooper management and training and better service to Washington overall."

The multi-disciplinary team of researchers analyzed data on more than 7 million interactions with the public from 2015 through 2019, including traffic stops, calls for service and collisions.

They found no ethnic groups to be significantly overrepresented in officer contacts and calls for service.

"We appreciate and respect the findings from WSU's Division of Governmental Studies and Services," Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said. "I am heartened to see that once again, after thorough study, no evidence of systemic or intentional bias can be found in our traffic enforcement operations."

White people were stopped statewide at about the same rate as their proportion of the population. However, Black people were stopped slightly more often when compared with their statewide population. Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander and Hispanic drivers were stopped at lower rates.

"Washington State Patrol leaders should take pride in the fact that they are genuinely interested in knowing exactly what the data show and are not backing down on their commitment to further investigate and make changes for improvement," Sanders said.

While the study's executive summary states "no evidence of systemic bias in the decision to stop exists in data analyzed," the researchers also noted several counties revealed a disproportionate amount of stops when compared with census data.

Black drivers were overrepresented among traffic stops in King and Pierce counties and Hispanic drivers were overrepresented in Benton County as compared to their proportion of the population in those areas. White drivers were somewhat overrepresented in traffic stops based on county-level comparisons.

"There are many potential explanations for disproportionality that must be ruled out prior to an assumption of biased policing," the report states. "WSU will continue to work in collaboration with the WSP to better understand any differences in stops across motorist groups at the state and county levels."

An analysis of enforcement activity including searches and arrests also produced mixed results.

While demographic groups are searched at similar rates, the success of finding contraband was lower for Black and Hispanic drivers. Another analysis showed Hispanic, Native American and Black motorists are searched at statistically higher rates, while Asian and Pacific Islander drivers are less likely to be searched than white drivers.

When examining drivers who only received a speeding violation, Black and Native American people were found to be statistically less likely to receive an arrest citation than white people.

"We will continue to constantly monitor our operations and use trusted outside reviewers and advisors to continuously improve," Batiste said. "In our business, there is simply no room for failure when it comes to fairness."
(c)2021 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

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