Boston to track all stops by police
By Francie Latour, Globe Staff, and Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent, 7/20/2003
aced with department statistics showing that Boston police officers tend to warn more whites than minorities for the same traffic offenses, the department has decided to collect information on every interaction between police and citizens as a further safeguard against possible racial, or gender, profiling.
Later this year the department will become the first in the state to track race and gender information for every citizen encounter, whether on the street or during a traffic stop. The information will be collected on a revised version of a departmental form called the field interrogation or observation report.
As part of the state's racial profiling law, approved in 2000, the state has been collecting information on traffic stops from every police department in Massachusetts - but only when those stops lead to a ticket or a written warning.
Some police chiefs lobbied against documenting all traffic stops, saying the paperwork burden on officers would be too great. But police officials in Boston said they never opposed the measure, and the department's new tracking system will put it on a par with cities such as Miami and Los Angeles that already collect such information. The so-called FIO reports have always recorded race information, and are mostly used to gather intelligence on gang members and other criminal activity.
The new written reports, which Commissioner Paul F. Evans described in a June meeting with civil rights and minority leaders, will document the race and gender of every citizen who is searched, frisked, questioned, or observed on suspicion by a Boston officer. The information will be entered into a database so supervisors can closely track patterns in how officers conduct stops during patrols.
The department's spokeswoman, Mariellen Burns, said supervisors will undergo training on the new forms in the next month, but she did not know when officers will start using them.
In a letter inviting community leaders to the June meeting, Evans said the possibility of bias among his officers raises ``a profound concern to the Department.'' At the meeting, participants said, Evans acknowledged problems with racial disparities in traffic stops.
A Boston Globe analysis of state records found that, in almost every neighborhood in the city, whites were far more likely than minorities to receive written warnings instead of tickets when they committed identical traffic offenses. Boston police also were more lenient on women offenders than men.
The Boston Police Department's own findings echo the Globe's review. The department found that 46 percent of whites received a ticket when cited for a traffic violation. Meanwhile, 51 percent of Middle Easterners were ticketed; 60 percent of blacks; 61 percent of Latinos, and 63 percent of Asians.
The racial disparities were most pronounced in South Boston, where 26 percent of whites were ticketed, compared with 45 percent of minorities. Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and the South End/Downtown area also showed significant disparities.
The city's numbers are based on 23,599 citations written by Boston officers in April and May 2001. The figures are not broken down by gender, and do not take into account the type of traffic violation. Criminal offenses were excluded.