Researchers at Stanford University are collecting data to determine whether race plays a part in motor vehicle stops by police, says a recent report by The Marshall Project.
This comes at a time of national debate about the way law enforcement responds to minorities. In the past few years there have been an alarming number of videoed traffic stops that presented disturbing images.
In one such case, a video shows the arrest of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who hanged herself in a jail cell after being stopped and booked by a Texas state trooper in 2015.
“We think there are issues, but nobody is minding the chicken coop,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Montana representative Jim Taylor told Marshall Project reporters.
“Bland’s case and others have spurred calls for more reliable information – everything from police videos to data logged every time someone is pulled over – because traffic stops are one of the most common ways members of the public interact with the police,” the report stated.
Under the project named Law, Order, & Algorithms, the Stanford researchers are now doing the hard work of bringing all of the available information together into one database. The goal is to make all the existing traffic stop data accessible for journalists and academics.
“…traffic stops are one of the most common ways members of the public interact with the police”
In California, state and local police agencies are now required to submit annual “stop data” reports to the attorney general pursuant to legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. (The first reports should be available by 2018.)
According to Marshall Project, currently, where data exists, the way that it is collected and analyzed varies from state to state. Factors such as race, whether or not a ticket was issued, and whether or not an arrest was made often determine whether information is recorded.
Some states collect information but do not compile the data or analyze it. One state (Maine) collects information on paper only. Other states admitted not knowing whether or how data was collected, according to the report.
“Without knowing who is stopped by whom and why, understanding how police can improve their interaction with minorities is difficult,” the report stated.
The Stanford researchers – with support from the Knight Foundation – will be assisted by journalists to gather and analyze as many as 100 million traffic stops across the United States.
The research project coincides with the Obama administration’s newly enacted Police Data Initiative which studies ways to improve community policing, particularly in diverse communities.