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Bill Dedman (Moderator)
11:59AM
Hi, this is Bill Dedman and we're ready to go with this chat, so let's start.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:03PM
It might be good to start by remembering how this began. For many years there have been allegations by minorities of harassment by police. It's a polarizing issue: Some people think that police certainly discriminate, and some people think that police certainly are fair. To get beyond anecdotes, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a study. It didn't make profiling illegal, or set up any penalties. It said, we'll have a test.
UpstandingCitizen
12:04PM
Bill - Great Article. What are your thought about Newton where the police chief ordered ticketing over warnings. Because of complaints by the rank and file, a judge over-ruled the chief.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:05PM
Upstanding, that's an interesting test case, where the court is saying that even the police chief can't tell officers which circumstances deserve a ticket, and which ones deserve a warning. We're not suggesting that everyone should get a ticket. There are police departments that ticket nearly everyone, and departments that ticket hardly anyone. That's for the police departments to decide. We're reporting whether the breaks that are handed out are distributed equally. Logically, if everyone got a ticket, or everyone got a warning, then these disparities would go away. But that might not be a fair result, because drivers' circumstances do vary, and it might not be the best policy for public safety. So the challenge is to figure out how to make the system fair without being robotic. Our article today on the fairness of the State Police -- and the fairness of the officers in Boston who do the most traffic enforcement -- might offer some clues. Maybe it's training, or supervision, or profes
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:06PM
Maybe it's training, or supervision, or professionalism.
LunchTime
12:06PM
I commute nearly 80 miles a day and not a week goes by that I don't nearly get in an accident with an incompetent, inattentive, careless driver. Maybe giving out more tickets would curb this type of driver's ways.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:07PM
Maybe the first lesson should be in how to merge into a rotary.
Homer
12:07PM
Boo Hoo. Police tend to discriminate against criminals. The answer - don't speed.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:09PM
Boo Hoo, this isn't a story about people getting a tickets they don't deserve. If you speed, even 1 mph over the limit, you're speeding. Everyone sees that. But this is a story about who gets a break. I thought it was interesting that the minority drivers and men we interviewed weren't complaining that they were victims of profiling -- they didn't know why they got the ticket. But the question is, why do other "crmiinals" to use your word get a break, a warning, for the same speed.
Kyle
12:09PM
Is there a correlation between warnings, tickets, and local residency?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:10PM
Kyle, yes, clearly there's a hometown advantage, in most towns. You can see these facts for every community in the state, at www.boston.com/globe/tickets. We calculate the hometown advantage -- comparison between the percentage of hometown speeders ticketed and out-of-town speeders ticketed. The odd thing is that minorities tend to get a hometown disadvantage, ticketed more when they live in a town, warned less when they live in a town.
CrimeAnalyst
12:10PM
Two comments, coming from the perspective of someone who works with this data all the time (primarily in response to yesterday's segment): 1. I noted that the data you used was over two years old. Was it the Registry that was unable to provide more current data? I would imagine that a lot of agencies' policies have changed in the last two years. 2. There was a small disclaimer within your stats about how some agencies give more oral warnings that written warnings. I think this issue is much bigger than you realize, and probably accounts for most of the huge disparities. I doubt that Chelsea really tickets on 87% of their stops; they just don't use many written warnings.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:12PM
CrimeAnalyst, You make two good points, and we were quick to say what we don't know. Yes, the Registry typed in warnings for only two months, two years ago, although the state law required a continuing test -- lack of funds. We would love to have more to see if the patterns have changed.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:12PM
CrimeAnalyst, Also, We can't know every variable. We don't know the driver's attitude when the officer comes to the window. And we don't know the driver's history of violations, although it's worth noting that officers often don't know that information either, because it's not always available from their mobile computers, when they have them, and they don't always check. But we did try to take into account all the information that is available. We compared drivers who were cited for doing the same speed. We compared white drivers who live in the town with minority drivers who also live in the town. We also looked at other variables -- day or night, Ford or BMW, red car or blue car -- and we see the same disparities in all these situations.
Homer
12:13PM
I'll tell you why some people get breaks. They put their hands on the wheel, turn the radio down and act respectful when the police officer talks to them. Being good looking helps too - the world is unfair. let's get over it.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:14PM
Homer, You may be right. But what would explain the relative fairness of two groups: the State Police,and the Boston Police officers who focus on traffic enforcement. The State Police ticket three out of four drivers, but distribute the warnings fairly to men and women, to whites and non-whites. And the Boston police who cite a lot of drivers warn most drivers, but also are very fair. If a driver's attitude explains the difference, wouldn't the pattern be the same for other departments?
Kyle
12:14PM
Are we trying to draw the assumption that there is an underlying conspiracy of towns to drive minorities out through 'subtle discrimination' or are minorities being targeted because the assumption is that they carry less socio-econimic weight?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:16PM
Kyle, sociologists talk about a phenomenon of being "out of place." Minority drivers have told of being asked, what are you doing in this neighborhood, even when they live in the neighborhood. But we have no information on why these disparities are occurring.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:16PM
Kyle, But both sides in the debate should be cautioned that you can't prove profiling with this kind of information. That is, you can't prove intentional discrimination. But you can see whether people are treated equally. And of course you could have inequality that's caused by intentional discrimination, or you could have inequality that's caused by some unconscious bias or misperceptions. We can't sort that out from traffic tickets, and people on both sides of the debate should keep that in mind.
ladydriver
12:16PM
what about the difference between the sexes? do more men or women get ticketed?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:17PM
Ladydriver, The sex and age differences are interesting. And several things are going on at once. As you get older, you're less likely to get a ticket, and more likely to get a warning, when you're cited for driving the same speed. So the most advantaged group is usually older drivers. It's also true that women are consistently given warnings more often than men of the same age. And it's true that the advantage for women is greatest when you compare younger women and younger men. After age 40, women still get more breaks than men of the same age, but it's a lot closer. By about age 70, men and women are treated about the same. So younger women are getting the biggest break, compared with men of the same age.
SafeT
12:17PM
Bill, what was the actual cost to collect the data for two months by the RMV?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:19PM
SafeT, I don't know. The Registry already types in tickets, so there was no additional cost for that. The warnings had to be typed in. Governor Romney asked for $840,000 for this year to type in a year's worth of warnings to continue the test, but the Legislature approved only $150,000, and the state hasn't decided how it will tackle the job. It might do only some of the warnings, or a random sample. That's an open question.
CrimeAnalyst
12:19PM
Interesting material for a follow-up story: since the Registry isn't doing anything with written warnings any more, my police department has all but stopped issuing them. About half the people who would have gotten a written warning now get a ticket, and the other half get oral warnings. The Registry's policy has made written warnings obsolete.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:20PM
CrimeAnalyst, That is interesting. We spoke with two departments, Acton and Woburn, that wrote warnings but didn't send them in to the Registry, because they thought that warnings weren't recorded -- for the profiling study. But they're right, they aren't recorded in general, for safety purposes. An officer who stops you has no way to know that you were warned yesterday and the day before that...
Dave495
12:20PM
Bill, will there ever be any attention to who polices the police? The State Police on Rt 495 are often a danger to other motorists, with frequent tailgating, swerving in and out of lanes, and even road rage.
Mike
12:21PM
I thought the bias's pointed out by your article were illuminating, and I bet the majority of the officers didn't realize they were doing it (as you mentioned). Hopefully your article will make them concience[sp] of it in the future. It will be interesting to do a followup in a year or 2. Anyway one thing you were implying was that the police are too lenient in general here in Mass. I don't agree. I think if as you said, 80% of the people on the road are breaking the law at any given time, then there is something wrong with the law.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:23PM
Mike, We didn't say what the fix should be. We're reporting on the results of the test: There appears to be an advantage for women and for whites in who gets a ticket and who gets a warning. Police departments and the state are looking at the same figures, and will be looking to see whether there are changes in supervision or training that can make the system more fair. Some may reflexively try to fix the disparities by ticketing everyone -- the subjectivity of warnings does open the door to bias. But the experience of the State Police, and tbe busy cops in Boston, shows that you don't have to ticket everyone to be fair.
Mike
12:23PM
I think it is also obvious that the officer at a traffic stop could make a better decision about giving a warning or a ticket if they had better information, such as prior warnings, which CrimeAnalyst says aren't being recorded, and you said aren't available to most officers in any case.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:24PM
Mike, Not just the wanings -- not all officers know your record of tickets either. Some police cars don't have mobile data terminals, and not all of those terminals will have a driver's history. Often an officer will know only if there are warnings out for the driver, or if the license is suspended or revoked. An officer can call the dispatcher for that info, but that creates more radio traffic and takes time.
pulic
12:25PM
Hey, did you ever think that maybe Hispanics and blacks get more tickets because they speed much more often? Seems as if you left this little detail out of your 'research'. Every time someone flies by me at warp speed on the highway in a 'sooped' up car it normally is a young Hispanic or black man....hate to stereotype, but it's true.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:26PM
Public, I believe you missed what we calculated. It's worth remembering that we weren't saying that men and minorities are stopped more. That's usually been the focus in talk about profiling: who gets stopped. We were measuring, out of every 100 whites who get stopped and who get a citation, and out of every minorities who get stopped and get a citation, how many of each group get a ticket that carries a fine and goes on your driving record, and how many get a warning, which isn't even recorded by the state anymore.
CrimeAnalyst
12:26PM
Mike, you said it. Speed limits are artificially low on many Massachusetts roads. In deciding whether to stop and/or ticket, officers have to take into account weather, time of day, road congestion, and several other factors. This is one reason why continuing to allow officers this discretion is so important.
UpstandingCitizen
12:26PM
There is a curious incongruity here. Attitude is a factor in ticketing or not but prior warnings are not taken into account. If there is a need for discretion, perhaps it should be applied in a court of law, not at the side of the road.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:27PM
Upstanding, by the way, from our interviews with drivers, we certainly started to get the impression that it pays to challenge a ticket with the hearing officer. We talked with a lot of drivers whose tickets were thrown out, or the fine reduced.
Mike
12:27PM
I guess the impression I got from you article (maybe it was from the headlines the editors chose :) was that the police were too lenient here in Mass, and should be giving out more tickets.
SafeT
12:27PM
Bill, was there any evidence of police using a traffic violation to intentionally harass drivers? We hear that if Massachusetts were to adopt a primary seat belt law, for instance, the degree of racial profiling would be exacerbated. Any opinion after reviewing the data?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:29PM
SafeT, We wrote a bit about seat belts a month or so ago. See the link on the lower right of www.boston.com/globe/tickets. Although the law forbids stopping for someone for just a seat belt violation, we found thousands of tickets for just that offense. It would be legal for an officer to stop you for speeding, but write you only for the seat belt.
Kyle
12:29PM
Is there any reluctance on the part of townships to issue tickets? I have talked to some town managers that have expressed hesitation in raising the number of tickets issued for fear that their town will get the stigma of a speed trap. Bad for business and home buying.
Dave495
12:29PM
It is interesting to see that women do get ticketed less then men for the same offense. Were there any differences in this based on the gender of the officer?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:30PM
Dave495, We can't say. Only in Boston did we have names and races of the officers. There are enough minority officers to look at their pattern: As we reported, minority officers are tougher on everyone, and show a greater racial disparity to the disadvantage of minorities, than white officers do. But there aren't enough women officers on the force, or writing citations during the study period, to draw a conclusion.
Mike
12:30PM
I'd have to disagree w/ pulic. As a white male, I frequently go by other races, and I wonder if they are going so slow trying to avoid the driving while black profiling.
Mike
12:31PM
Why would you want the huge extra expense of expanding appearances in court? I think the police can do a good job if they are given the proper tools and reviewed so they are made aware of their failings.
pulic
12:31PM
Ok, point proven, but maybe is it because of the excessive speed that they are given more tickets? Was the percent over the speed limit taken into account? Also, minorities tend to be younger overall as a general share of the population than white people, and I know as a police officer that I would give a higher percentage of tickets to young drivers to discourage them in the future...
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:32PM
Public, Yes, we looked very carefully at the amount of the speed. Pick any speed: 10 mph over, 10 mph over in a 30 zone, 15 over in a 40, 25 over in a 50. Pick 'em, and the local police across the state show a consistent advantage for women and whites, warning more of them for the same offense.
CrimeAnalyst
12:32PM
It seems to me that minority discrimination in citations, if it exists, is more of an indirect or unconscious phenomenon. Some minorities aren't fluent in English, so their ability to "sweet talk" officers is limited. Others have a chip on their shoulder about what they perceive as racial profiling, so they're rude to the officers from the start, resulting in greater likelihood of a ticket. Minorities are more likely to be from a lower economic status, which means they're more likely to have expired/suspended/revoked registrations, defective equipment, and license problems--all of which increase one's likelihood of a stop AND of a ticket. Doubtless, there are a few officers who deliberately put the screws to minorities, but I think these indirect causes account for most of the disparities.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:34PM
CrimeAnalyst, You ask good questions, but I believe we've accounted for those possible explanations. For example, we looked only at citations for a single offense, usually focusing on speeding where the severity of the violation is known. So the patterns aren't explained by, say, revoked registrations. And the type of car isn't a factor, nor the age of the car. That is, no matter what type of car, the patterns of race and gender are consistent, for the same offenses.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:36PM
CrimeAnalyst, And we've done two other things that newspapers don't usually do. First, we asked an independent statistician to look at the raw data and to see whether she gets the same conclusions. Her report is on this site.And we've made our data -- which is really the Registry of Motor Vehicles records -- available here as well, so you and otehr researchers can work with it. We'd love to hear what you see.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:36PM
OK, we're out of questions but have lots of time, so fire away.
discbreak
12:37PM
Rhode Island gives you one free pass when ticketed for mild speeding only. Show up in court with official copy of clean driving record, pay $25 costs, and walk without speeding on record. RI cops, while knowing nothing about a driver's record, can ticket and not burn a first time offender. Nothing like that in Mass., is there?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:38PM
Discbreak, No such luck. There used to be, in Mass., a break on your first offense, which brought a lower fine than a later offense. But no more. Now, the first time you go 10 mph over, and get a ticket, that's $100. And roughly $350 over six years on your insurance, we estimated.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:39PM
CrimeAnalyst, Remember that the state law provides for a university, it turned out to be Northeastern University, to study the same records. Its results aren't expected until perhaps December. The researchers there have the same records that the Globe has, no more, but it will be interesting to see what methods they use, and what conclusions they draw.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:40PM
Kyle, you asked about reluctance to ticket. Francie and I heard the same thing, but I can't document it. If you read the Q&A with Secy. Flynn on this site, he spoke a lot about how the ticketing culture varies from town to town.
Dave495
12:40PM
Was there any breakdowns by percent for how many tickets were from 1-5 mph over the limit, 6-10mph, etc?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:41PM
Dave, I don't have the figure in front of me, but it was very low. Remember that the fines start at 10 mph over. You pay the same for 3 mph over as you do for 10 mph over.To me, that seems to suggest that the law expects most tickets to be for at least 10 mph over. When we saw in the databases the warnings for more than 30 mph over, and the tickets for 1-5 mph over, we thoght they must be typos. So we ordered paper copies of those. Some were typos, but dozens were real tickets and warnings.
SafeT
12:41PM
Not that I'm aware of either. Delaware just passed a primary seat belt law that gives credit on insurance/surcharges to a speeder if they have the belt on however!
Mike
12:42PM
Heh, even the supposed break you get for the 1st offense on your record for your insurance, isn't really a break. And having the ticket on your insurance for 6 years costs a fortune. I wonder if there really is a correlation between claims and speeding tickets? Or is this just an easy way for the insurance companies to make money?
parking pam
12:42PM
There is no doubt that there is a hometown advantage and certain groups are given a break when it comes to parking violations. On a daily basis I see cars parking in front of fire hydrants, facing the wrong way against traffic and less than 20 ft. from the intersection. When my driveway was blocked, officers told me "they won't be long". A lack of enforcement of parking restrictions in my neighborhood compromises our safety. My concerns have been met with limited success. It appears if you drive a Mercedes with a vanity plate, you can park in front of a hydrant and if you're over 60 you can park wherever you like.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:43PM
Parking Pam, We didn't study parking tickets, but here's one fact in Mass.: If you get two parking tickets in a single town, the town notifies the Registry, which flags your record, and you have to pay the tickets before you can renew your license or get a new plate for your car. But it has to be two in the same town. So you can get a parking ticket, once per town, in 351 communities, before they'll catch you.
pulic
12:44PM
Did you look at the percentage of minority police officers writing tickets for other minorities vs. whites and for whites writing for minorities and what were the results
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:44PM
Pulic, We did. That story is at www.boston.com/globe/tickets. The nut: 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.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:45PM
Pulic, More: 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.
discbreak
12:45PM
...and i connection with how much over limit is written on a ticket, do you have any info on how often and for whom cops write in a lower than actually clocked speed? Now that's a $$ break..
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:46PM
Discbreak, It's clear, from interviews, that officers frequently "write down" or "knock down" the speed on tickets. We noticed that the tickets were grouped at certain speeds: There are a lot more tickets for 15 mph over the limit, for example, than at 14 or 16.
pulic
12:46PM
So, what I want to know, what is this supposed to really show? Is this such a significant problem? Also, remember that many minorities don't drive as well since many are from overseas from countries where driving laws are disregarded (if they exist). - trust me, I've been there. They come here and drive like they always have. Was poor driving ability taken into account.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:48PM
Pulic, Yes, poor driving is taken into account, because we're comparing how one group that, say, fails to stop at a red light, is treated compared with another group that fails to stop at a red light. ... There is a lot of folklore. From my e-mails, it seems that everyone has a different idea about which group drives worse. But we're looking at people who did the same offense, or were at least ticketed or warned for the same offense.
pulic
12:48PM
one last question, how many of my tax dollars funded this ridiculous study?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:49PM
Pulic, This study costs you, today, exactly 50 cents for a Globe, unless you read it at boston.com for free.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:50PM
The hard question may be what to do about it. More studies will give us more information -- for example, about oral warnings, which have been documented in Rhode Island and lots of other states and cities. But Secretary Flynn said that the only way to fix these disparities may be for police chiefs to sit down a their desks with a stack of tickets on one side, and warnings on the other, and to ask officers, why is this one different from that one? (You can read his full comments in a Q&A on this site.)
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:51PM
So the quetion for you is, if you were a police chief, how would you tackle this problem? The head of the police officers' association, and the police chiefs association, said they would like to see more training of officers. Boston is going to start documenting every citizen interaction with police, and studying each officer's pattern of tickets and warnings.
UpstandingCitizen
12:52PM
Bill - Earlier you mentioned "Maybe the first lesson should be in how to merge into a rotary". Would it be more effective to change all the drivers or change all the rotaries?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:53PM
Upstanding, I have to say, one of the most surprising things, for me, was the federal data showing that Mass. has the lowest fatal accident rate, per mile traveled.Transportation specialists said that Mass. drivers may be safe, or that the roads may be so crowded, or potholled, that we just can't get up enough speed to do harm.
Mike
12:53PM
I guess it's attitudes like that, that prevented the legislature from funding recording warning data and giving the officers better information to ticket those who really deserve it, and warn those who don't. I think just the fact that this study has been done and published in the Globe will go a fair way towards making the officers more fair (as the troopers and boston police seem to be)
Dave495
12:53PM
Yes Bill, we do have our own ideas on who drives the worst. For me, it's the police themselves who have little regard for other drivers. I was almost in a major accident because some clown in a state cruiser tailgated another driver in the left lane. The driver panicked and almost took me out in the middle lane. When I called the state police barracks to complain, the dispatcher attempted to intimidate me from filing a report.
pulic
12:53PM
Oh great, now all the white police officers have to go through 'diversity' training and listen to countless hours of lecture on how white people have been racists since the Bronze Age. Give me a break!
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:55PM
Pulic, I think you've missed the fact that a) we're not saying that this is caused by some bias. We don't know why it's happening. And b) it's not a difference just when a white officer writes the ticket. As we found in Boston, if you're a minority driver, your chance of getting a fair shake is better if you're stopped by a white officer.
SafeT
12:55PM
Bill, we also have some of the best health care institutions in the country that are easily accessed by trauma patients.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:55PM
SafeT, Yes, good point. I hadn't thought of that!
Mike
12:55PM
Actually although I hate the idea of giving police officers more paper work, I think for a while the individual officers should take their own tickets once a month, and profile them.
UpstandingCitizen
12:55PM
Bill -I always hear about fatals per mile. What about injuries per mile? Crashes per mile? Property damage per mile?
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:56PM
Upstanding, NHTSA has online the fatals per mile, and accidents/crashes per mile. The miles traveled are an estimate, of course, but Mass. has been lowest every year for a decade.
RoxyGuy
12:56PM
I agree, I have seen some BAD police drivers out there.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
12:56PM
So we have a few minutes left.Last chance.
SafeT
12:59PM
In 2002, Secretary Jajuga at a Memorial Day event noted that in Massachusetts we spent over $6 billion on motor vehicle crashes, injuries, property, etc.
Bill Dedman (Moderator)
01:01PM
Thanks to everyone for your great questions. You can send e-mail to us. I'm Bill Dedman, at dedman@globe.com. And Francie Latour is at flatour, that's FLATOUR, flatour@globe.com. And if you have letters to the editor, for publication in the daily Globe, send those to Glenda Buell, g_buell@globe.com. Signing off.

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