FRANK R. BAUMGARTNER
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
NC Traffic Stops
In 1999, North Carolina became the first state in the country to mandate the collection of data whenever a police officer stops a motorist. Since January 1, 2000, the State Highway Patrol has been collecting these data, and since January 1, 2002, all sizable police departments in the state have done so. The data are made publicly available by the NC Department of Justice through a web site listed below. However, the state has never issued any reports based on analyses of the data collected. In 2011 I was asked to help compile some statistics for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and with my graduate student Derek Epp, I did so. Since then, I have been active in a series of analyses of particular elements of these data, in particular the racial characteristics of stops and searches in different communities. Our first in-depth analysis is a treatment of racial disparities in Durham. Click on the links below to see various elements of these analyses.
Click here to read the section of the NC General Statutes § 114-10-1 establishing the collection of traffic stops data.
NC Department of Justice Web Site: http://trafficstops.ncdoj.gov/. Thanks to the NC DOJ for providing the underlying database to us in June 2014 and for answering technical questions about its structure. As of 2014 there were over 17,000,000 observations in the database.
In December 2015 Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice launched a new web site: https://opendatapolicingnc.com/, which makes available all the data from the NC state web site listed above, but in a more user-friendly manner.
SBI Form 122, a blank version of the form filled out by officers.
Read a full article based on our analysis of these official statistics:
Baumgartner, Frank R., Derek A. Epp, Kelsey Shoub, and Bayard Love. Forthcoming, 2016. Targeting Young Men of Color for Search and Arrest during Traffic Stops: Evidence from North Carolina, 2002-2013. Politics, Groups, and Identities.
- Media coverage
---Black Dignity Matters: Research shows that police do subject African Americans to much greater unwarranted scrutiny and harsher treatment, Reason.com, by Ronald Bailey, July 15, 2016
---Color-Conscious Drug Warriors Breed Mistrust: Two recent studies confirm anecdotal evidence of racial disparities in police treatment of drivers and pedestrians, Reason.com, by Jacob Sullum, August 1, 2016.
See an overview presentation of state-wide data and trends as of July 2015. Update presented to the UNC Institute of African-American Research, September 2015. See a video of this IAAR talk. See a preliminary analysis of contraband finds in Charlotte, also from July 2015. The typical contraband "hit" is a very small amount.
See a recent New York Times investigation of the issue, covering some of our research as well as that of others:
The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black, by Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew W. Lehren, The New York Times, October 24, 2015.
New York Times story spotlights racial disparities in Greensboro policing, by Joe Killian, Greensboro News & Record, October 27, 2015.
How do we defuse tensions between African-Americans and the police? by Eric Frazier, Charlotte Observer, October 29, 2015.
Greensboro police halt minor traffic stops in response to racial disparity concerns, by Katie Elizabeth Queram, Greensboro News & Record, November 10, 2015.
Greensboro Puts Focus on Reducing Racial Bias, by Sharon LaFraniere, The New York Times, November 11, 2015
Data show black males more likely to be searched during traffic stops throughout North Carolina, by Margaret Moffett, Greensboro News & Record, November 22, 2015.
Bar chart and statistics showing the probability of being searched by Age Group, Gender, and Race.
Note: On October 1, 2014, Durham police enacted a policy requiring that officers obtain written permission before conducting a consent search. This reform was enacted as a result of pressure from citizen groups alleging racial bias, partly on the basis of our analysis of official statitics as in the report above. See news coverage from the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News and Observer about that decision.
See New York Times coverage: Activists Wield Search Data to Challenge and Change Police Policy, By Richard A. Oppel Jr., Nov. 20, 2014.
News coverage of the written consent policy from July 2015 and later:
Durham discusses community and police divide, by Virginia Bridges. Raleigh News and Observer, July 21, 2015.
Durham’s probable-cause searches rise after consent policy is implemented, by Virginia Bridges. Raleigh News and Observer, July 21, 2015.
City Council takes a look at traffic stop issues, by Lauren Horsch, The Durham Herald Sun, Jul. 23, 2015
RTI study finds racial disparities in Durham police traffic stops, by Mark Schultz and Thomasi McDonald, Raleigh News and Observer, March 17, 2016
A number of cities across the state have now mandated written consent, rather than oral or verbal consent for searches conducted without probable cause. Below are the dates at which each city mandated the change, and a copy of the form, if available. For the cases of Fayetteville and Durham, with enough data before and after the reform, we have produced a short report on the consequence of the reform as well.
Fayetteville. Form, mandated as of March 2, 2012. Analysis, June 2015.
Carrboro, July 1, 2015
Chapel Hill, July 1, 2015
Click here to open a poster showing the rates at which drivers are searched by race, gender, and age group, for 48 North Carolina police agencies. This is similar to the bar chart produced in the New York Times article cited above. The poster is suitable for printing, but note that it has a large format: 48 x 36 inches.
Click here to see a similarly formated (48 x 36 inches) poster showing the rates at which individual police officers search black and white drivers, across the same 48 North Carolina police agencies.
Analyses of individual police departments.
For each of the cities listed below, click on the links to download a two-page summary report, a longer statistical summary of racial differences in traffic stops and searches, or a spreadsheet listing Black and White driver stops and searches for each officer ID number identified in the database, and the ratio of the percent of Black and White drivers searched by that officer. For a full explanation of the tables and analyses, see our more extensive report on Durham, above. The reports below follow an identical format and provide basic summaries about traffic stops from 2002 through 2013 for each police agency listed.
Additional reports for selected smaller jurisdictions
Chatham County Sheriff Report | Spreadsheet
Orange County Sheriff | Report | Spreadsheet
News coverage of the reports and cases listed above:
- A 'different kind of policing': Carrboro makes changes to combat racial bias, by Katie Jansen, The Durham Herald-Sun, November 26, 2015
- Durham black-white driver search gap grows, by Virginia Bridges, Durham News, November 24, 2015
-'I was terrified': Raleigh man says he became traffic-stop statistic. WRAL TV (Raleigh, NC), July 28, 2015.
-Racial disparity in traffic searches prompts investigation, by Eric Ginsburg, Triad City Beat, July 22, 2015.
-Orange County group sends police chiefs, sheriff advice for fighting police bias, by Tammy Grubb, Chapel Hill News, May 26, 2015.
-Blacks still targeted by traffic stops in NC, by Cash Michaels, Editor, The Carolinian, April 26, 2015.
-The Racial Imbalance in Traffic Stops Persists, by Lauren Kirchner, April 16, 2015, Pacific Standard.
-Driving While Black Has Actually Gotten More Dangerous in the Last 15 Years, by Jaeah Lee, April 15, 2015, MotherJones.com.
-Traffic Study: Blacks two times more likely to get searched by police during stops in Wilmington, by Alex Giles, April 14, 2015, Wect.com.
-Study: Black drivers more likely to get searched during traffic stops in NC, by Steve Crump, April 13, 2015, Wbtv.com.
-Racial disparity in Charlotte traffic stops grows, study finds, by Michael Gordon, 11 April 2015, Charlotte Observer.
-Bias behind the badge, by Lauren Kent, February 5, 2015, The Daily Tar Heel.
-Police may adopt written consent for traffic-stop searches, by Mark Schultz, January 6, 2015, Chapel Hill News.
-UNC study questions traffic stops in Roanoke Rapids, By Erin Carson, Tuesday, December 16, 2014, Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald.
North Carolina Advocates for Justice Report on Racial Disparities in Police Stops of Vehicles, 2000 through 2011. These technical reports were based on official statistics provided by the NC Department of Justice and relate to each traffic stop in the state from January 1, 2000 through June 2011. The report was submitted to the Governor, Attorney General, and leaders of both parties in both chambers of the NC legislature in April 2012. In June 2012, it was leaked to the press.
Task Force Report (Executive Summary)
Caveat: Note that in the analyses above, we found an error in the county-level analysis. We do not recommend analyzing the data by county, since police departments do not necessarily correspond to counties. In addition, the data supplied by the SBI for the Highway Patrol use a different set of codes (patrol districts) that do not correspond to counties. Therefore, not only are counties not the approrpriate unit of analysis, but we also made errors in the allocation of Highway Patrol stops to various counties. We apologize for these errors and recommend that the county-level analyses in the report be ignored.
Caveat: Also note that we included passengers in the analysis above. This is incorrect as data on passengers (as well as those occurring at checkpoints) is required to be collected only when searches occur; therefore we do not know how many passengers were stopped. While this was an error, the practical implications of this are very small, as there are comparatively very few passengers in the database.
These two caveats are based in part on a highly critical report commissioned by the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, available at this link. That report is correct to criticize us for these two particular errors, but it does not detract from or indeed even attempt to challenge our main finding that Black drivers have a 77 percent increased likelihood of being searched, compared to Whites, and that Hispanic drivers see a 96 percent increased risk of search.
Racial Disparities in Police Traffic Stops in North Carolina, 2000-2011, Presentation to the North Carolina Commission on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, September 19, 2013. This is a follow-up to the April 2012 report above, and focuses on officer-level disparities in search rates. It makes some suggestions for improvement in data collection practicies.
Raul Pinto of the ACLU of North Carolina published this report making very similar suggestions to those we reached in the report above.
Related media articles:
WUNC story: Durham Community Groups Want End To Alleged Police "Racial Profiling" By Leoneda Inge May 23, 2014.
Radio interview with Frank Stasio on WUNC's State of Things, The Debate Over Racial Profiling In The Durham Police Department, 9 May 2014 (31 minutes of audio); text summary also available on the same web site.
Black Drivers 77 Percent More Likely to be Stopped and Searched by Police in North Carolina.
Will Hagle, Study Of Traffic Stops In North Carolina Shows Significant Racial Bias. OpposingViews.com September 30, 2013.
Nicole Flatow, North Carolina Police 3 Times More Likely To Arrest Blacks After Seat Belt Violation, Study Finds, ThinkProgress.org September 30, 2013.
Jim Wise, Traffic-stop numbers show racial bias across North Carolina. Raleigh News and Observer, September 29, 2013.
Jim Wise, Durham study supports traffic-stop disparity claims. Durham News, September 26, 2013.
Andrew Barksdale, Report: Blacks, Hispanics in North Carolina get searched by police more than whites. Fayetteville Observer, June 22, 2012
Ian A. Mance, "Racial Profiling in North Carolina: Racial Disparities in Traffic Stops 2000 to 2011." Trial Briefs, June 2012: pp. 23-27.
UNC Public Radio, Targeting Minorities, The State of Things, with Frank Stasio, August 23, 2012. (20 minutes of audio)
ACLU urges NC racial profiling victims to come forward, WRAL.com, September 18, 2012.
Study: Hispanics, African Americans searched more often in NC, WCNC.com, September 19, 2012.
Terry S. Johnson, North Carolina Sheriff, And Deputies Accused Of Discrimination And Targeting Of Latinos For Deportation, HuffingtonPost.com, September 19, 2012.
Official Web Sites in various states and localities with similar data:
My analysis focuses solely on North Carolina, but several other states include simliar data
Texas: https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/reports.htm (click on Traffic Stops Data Reports)
- Related news story from the Austin-American Statesman, August 25, 2015.
- See this TV news investigation by Brian Collister, KXAN-TV, about the Texas traffic data and how millions of Hispanics have been coded as White, November 9, 2015.
- Legislative testimony by Baumgartner and others to the Texas House of Representatives, Committee on County Affairs, about problems in data collection by the Texas Department of Public Safety, November 18, 2015.
- DPS statistics showing no racial bias in stops are wrong, expert says, by Eric Dexheimer and Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman, November 22, 2015
- Report finds racial bias in traffic stops by Texas troopers, by the Associated Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram November 23, 2015
- Clearer analysis of DPS traffic stops needed, by the Editorial board, November 27, 2015. Austin American-Statesman.
- DPS searches Hispanics more, finds less, Statesman analysis shows, by Eric Dexheimer, Christian McDonald and Jeremy Schwartz, December 5, 2015. Austin American-Statesman.
A new initiative to make available public records of the court system.
Beginning in 2015, a group of attorneys and government transparency advocates have been working to make publicly available data from the NC court system. As an example of what they could do, they have posted this analysis of who gets arrested, over a six month period, for the charge of possession of less than 1/2 ounce of marijuana, with no other charge. The results show dramatic racial disparities.
updated: August 2, 2016