Minority officers are stricter on minorities
By Francie Latour, Globe Staff, and Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent, 7/20/2003
hen police departments are accused of racial profiling, white officers are generally the ones facing scrutiny.
But a Boston Globe analysis of 20,000 Boston police tickets and warnings tells a different story: Minority officers here are at least as tough as whites on minority drivers, and sometimes tougher.
For the most common violation, speeding 10 to 15 miles per hour over a 30 m.p.h. limit, white officers ticketed 30 percent of white Bostonians and 38 percent of minorities.
Minority officers were less lenient overall, issuing fewer warnings to all drivers.
And the racial gap was wider, with minority officers ticketing 43 percent of whites and 54 percent of minorities at the same speeds, the Globe found.
Further, the records show that black officers were toughest on Latino drivers, ticketing 67 percent of Latinos, but just 47 percent of blacks.
Whether the reverse is true - for Latino officers ticketing blacks - could not be determined because the number of those citations is too small to be statistically significant.
The racial disparities in ticketing of minorities by minorities held true whatever the speed, and no matter whether drivers were from Boston or from out of town.
The citations studied were from April and May 2001, the only period for which the state recorded warnings.
Although traffic tickets don't record the race of officers, the Globe obtained that information from internal Boston police documents.
The records suggest that, in the ongoing debate over racial profiling and its remedies, greater diversity on the force may not, by itself, be the remedy.
"Racial profiling is really less about racism and more about race," said Ronald Davis, a police captain in Oakland, Calif., and principal author of a 2001 report on profiling for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
"Racism is an overt act of discrimination," Davis said. "But when you talk about race in America, you're talking about bias and stereotypes, and even within minority groups, you can have those same biases and stereotypes. ... It's a much more complex problem to deal with."
Some local minority leaders said the findings do not surprise them.
"It's not a blanket statement, but I've certainly heard people say that ... they think minorities are even harder on minorities," said the Rev. Ray Hammond, a black pastor and co-founder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, which works with police on public safety issues.
Minority officers pointed to several factors. First among them, they said, is an intense desire to be accepted, and to avoid being seen as an officer who goes easy on other minorities.
"It's almost like they are proving that they can be just as harsh with a black person as they can with a white person," said Martin Joseph, a Boston police detective and a member of the department's minority officers' association. "And probably even harsher."
Compounding that desire, officers said, is a fear some have that white drivers, whether out of a sense of entitlement or racial animus, are more likely to lodge a complaint against a minority officer.
It has been 30 years since a federal court ordered Boston to address the racial imbalance in its ranks, and, under Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans, the department has aggressively recruited minorities.
The force is now 64.1 percent white and 26.5 percent black, according to the department, bringing it into rough parity with the latest census data on those two groups in Boston. By that standard, however, Latinos (7.6 percent of the force, 12.1 percent of the city population) and Asians (1.9 percent of the force, 7.7 percent of the city) remain underrepresented.
For one black motorist who was stopped by a black officer in Boston, the race of the officer wasn't nearly so surprising as the fact that she was stopped at all.
Erica Barry, 31, of Boston, said she was heading home from Logan Airport on a Saturday night in July 2002 when a Boston police car pulled up alongside her on American Legion Highway.
For several blocks, they drove side by side through Roslindale, Barry said.
But when the nose of her red Dodge Neon pulled ahead of the police cruiser, she said, the blue lights began flashing. The officer wrote her a $75 ticket for driving 43 m.p.h. in a 40 m.p.h. zone.
"I kept thinking to myself, `This is not really happening,"' said Barry, who contested the ticket in court and won. "I thought, anybody in their right mind is going to look at this ticket and see that something is wrong here."