boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL

Tickets to fix

7/23/2003

    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.

 FOLLOW-UPS

8/8/2004
Police plan public meeting

5/9/2004
Chiefs deny racial profiling

5/6/2004
Civil rights advocates laud plan

5/5/2004
Police chiefs decry study

5/4/2004
Racial profiling is confirmed
Northeastern study [PDF]
Report summary
Who got a passing grade?
Police response [MS Word]

2/16/2004
Police flouting 'no fix' law on tickets

1/21/2004
Profiling study cites dozens of locales Charts
Northeastern study [PDF]

1/20/2004
Reilly starts push to end profiling in police stops

1/17/2004
Boston police to get tough on tickets

9/19/2003
Judge: Suspect must stay in jail

9/18/2003
Seeing bias, evidence tossed

8/5/2003
Deeper look at profiling

7/24/2003
Funding urged for study

5/24/2003
Ticketing cited despite curbs

3/5/2003
Romney backs profile tracking
People asked to join task force

1/25/2003
Chief: Glitch caused error

1/8/2003
Task force to review data


 THE SERIES

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

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

Town-by-town:
Ticketing whites vs. minorities
Large departments | All

Ticketing women vs. men
Large departments | All


Day 2:
Punishment varies by town and officer

Graphics:
How tickets raise insurance
Ranking the departments
Littering is worse?

Town-by-town:
Toughest on speeders
Large departments | All
Locals vs. out-of-towners
Large departments | All


Day 3:
Troopers fair, tough in traffic encounters

Graphics:
Frequent ticketers
How fast can you go?


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

 ONLINE EXTRAS

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 Boston.com readers about this series.
Read full transcript

 EARLIER REPORTS

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

Part 1:
Citations reveal disparity
Totals key to computations

Graphics:
Tracking tickets
Searches by race and age

Charts:
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

Graphics:
Where race was not recorded

Charts:
Failing to record the race
Searching more cars

OFFICER DISCRETION will always be a major part of police work. But the judgments of police officers are not infallible and demand the strictest scrutiny when they result in significant disparities in traffic enforcement based on the race of drivers. A three-part Globe series that concluded yesterday provides insights on the most common but underanalyzed interaction between police and the public: traffic stops. State records reveal that whites in Massachusetts are less likely to receive tickets than minorities when pulled over by local police for identical offenses. During a two-month period in 2001, 31 percent of white motorists received tickets for speeding at 45 m.p.h in a 30-m.p.h zone, a common offense. Yet 49 percent of minorities received tickets for the same violation. This is unacceptable.

The Globe study raises the possibility not only of racial bias but so-called depolicing, a tendency by some officers to respond less actively to certain people or situations. It may seem harmless when an officer applies a ''hometown advantage'' to a local speeder in the form of a written warning. But the credibility of the entire department is undermined when outsiders are ticketed for a similar or lesser offense. And public trust in the police collapses when race or gender determines the outcome of the interaction.

Citing additional paperwork and even difficulties in determining a driver's ethnicity, some police officials resisted the 2000 state law that requires officers to record the race of motorists during traffic stops. But persistent complaints of racial profiling make clear that comprehensive data are needed to ensure fairness. And Massachusetts has far to go in the area of data collection.

All confirmed speeders, by definition, deserve tickets. Yet many drivers, especially younger white women, escape with just a warning. The collection and examination of those warnings are key to ensuring equal enforcement. Centralized data, however, are available only for April, May, and part of June 2001, when the Registry of Motor Vehicles had the will and money to record the information. An estimated 1.5 million unanalyzed warning notices issued since the passage of the racial profiling law sit in a Randolph warehouse.

Even if a supplemental budget appropriation is required, that data -- or at least a reliable sample -- should be collated. State law demands that police departments found to engage in racial profiling be subject to even stricter data collection. But these departments are hard to identify because profiling practices remain hidden away in unexamined files.

Police supervisors should not sit idle awaiting automated assistance from the state. In Boston, where the Globe found sharp disparities in ticketing based on race, police officials are expanding data collection to include all encounters with the public, not just traffic stops.

The state's Division of Insurance should also examine future findings. The Globe study estimated that minority drivers pay $6.4 million extra in fines and insurance premiums over the course of a year. Scofflaws should pay higher premiums. But the current system corrupts the pool.

Evenhandedness is never too much to ask of a police officer. The Massachusetts State Police appear to conduct their traffic enforcement duties without favoritism or bias, according to the Globe study. Secretary of Public Safety Edward Flynn should use the State Police statistics as a base line when evaluating other departments. Simple fairness is not an unattainable goal.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 7/23/2003.
©
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search