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Profiles in prejudice

By Globe Staff, 5/5/2004

    On city boulevards and rural lanes, whites and women are far more likely to receive written warnings instead of tickets when stopped for identical traffic offenses, according to a Boston Globe study of newly released state records.


Police plan public meeting

Chiefs deny racial profiling

Civil rights advocates laud plan

Police chiefs decry study

Racial profiling is confirmed
Northeastern study [PDF]
Report summary
Who got a passing grade?
Police response [MS Word]

Police flouting 'no fix' law on tickets

Profiling study cites dozens of locales Charts
Northeastern study [PDF]

Reilly starts push to end profiling in police stops

Boston police to get tough on tickets

Judge: Suspect must stay in jail

Seeing bias, evidence tossed

Deeper look at profiling

Funding urged for study

Ticketing cited despite curbs

Romney backs profile tracking
People asked to join task force

Chief: Glitch caused error

Task force to review data


Day 1:
Race, sex, and age drive ticketing
Minority officers are stricter on minorities
Boston to track all stops by police

Who gets fined for speeding
Minority officers
Most-favored status
One officer's week

Ticketing whites vs. minorities
Large departments | All

Ticketing women vs. men
Large departments | All

Day 2:
Punishment varies by town and officer

How tickets raise insurance
Ranking the departments
Littering is worse?

Toughest on speeders
Large departments | All
Locals vs. out-of-towners
Large departments | All

Day 3:
Troopers fair, tough in traffic encounters

Frequent ticketers
How fast can you go?

Editorial: Tickets to fix
Op-Ed: Looking deeper
Op-Ed: Study proves nothing
Profiles in prejudice


Q & A
Secretary of Public Safety Edward A. Flynn, the senior law enforcement official in Massachusetts, spoke with the Globe about this series. Q & A

Detailed report
A closer look at how the Globe analyzed hundreds of thousands of traffic tickets.
Download study
This .PDF document requires Adobe Acrobat

Online chat
Globe reporter Bill Dedman chatted with readers about this series.
Read full transcript


In January, the Globe published the first results of its analysis.

Part 1:
Citations reveal disparity
Totals key to computations

Tracking tickets
Searches by race and age

Searching minorities more often
Ticketing their own

Part 2:
Police not pressed on race
Tewksbury cop is tops
Fridays worst for tickets
Scope of monitoring reduced

Where race was not recorded

Failing to record the race
Searching more cars

THE 249 police departments in Massachusetts cited for apparent racial profiling in a major study released yesterday should resist defensiveness and accept the value of a data-driven approach to overcoming this significant impediment to a just society. In the study, Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice analyzed of 1.6 million citations between April 2001 and June 30, 2003 and found a pattern of disparities in traffic citations. This requires both reflection by individual departments and explanations to minority motorists who live in or commute through the communities where there are indications of profiling. Edward Flynn, the state's secretary of public safety, rightly argues that there is nothing more important to effective policing than the "trust and confidence" of the public. Flynn, who is required to identify departments that appear to engage in racial or gender profiling, is not offering any police discounts. He could have determined that only departments cited for disparities in several categories of the study -- Boston, Brookline, and Brockton among them -- be required to collect a full year of detailed data on all traffic stops. Instead, he wisely ordered that even one category triggers the in-depth collection requirement. Some police departments may feel stigmatized. But any department where officers are significantly more likely to search minority drivers or give warnings rather than tickets to white drivers -- such as Bedford and Newburyport, respectively -- needs to undergo careful self-examination even if there is no overall disparity in ticketing between whites and minorities. Flynn says it will take about six months to design the forms and procedures needed to implement the next stage of analysis. Though officers will be required to do more paperwork, the results could be illuminating, and not just in the area of biased decision making. With the addition of information such as precise locations and time of day, Flynn says, police departments should come to understand not only what is going on but why. Good data collection may vindicate some departments. If, for example, traffic enforcement efforts are shown to focus on areas with both a high number of accidents and a large percentage of minority residents or motorists, then some discrepancies would be understandable. If not, then police departments may be simultaneously engaging in racial profiling and ignoring dangerous traffic hot spots. Both Flynn and criminologist JacK McDevitt, a principal author of the study, urge police departments to explain the findings through a series of regional meetings that would maximize the possibility of reaching minority motorists. The public needs to hear an acknowledgment that with the power to stop cars comes the responsibility to be fair.

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