Report: Vermont troopers more likely to search black drivers

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SOUTH ROYALTON >> Black drivers stopped by Vermont State Police were five times more likely to be searched than white drivers, even though contraband was more likely to be found when white motorists were searched, according to a report on five years of traffic-stop data.

The findings were presented Tuesday evening in a meeting of the State Police senior command staff and an anti-bias committee of police employees and residents. The presentation did not include raw numbers of African-Americans or members of other minority groups searched, but provided the total number of stops and the percentages by race and ethnicity.

The percentage of stops of whites that resulted in searches was 1.1; the percentage involving black drivers was 5.1. Contraband was found 80 percent of the time in searches of whites and 68.5 percent of the time in searches of blacks.

Ninety-four percent of Vermont residents were white, according to the 2010 Census.

State Police director Col. Matthew Birmingham said the cause of the disparity appeared to be unintentional on the part of troopers making the stops.

"Implicit human bias is a very complicated thing to understand, and changing human behavior is a complicated thing to understand," Birmingham said.

Part of police training is "just to acknowledge we all have it," Birmingham said. That would be a first step toward "moving these numbers in a positive direction."

Some in the audience Tuesday complained that the search data did not specify when the search results were minor, as in a small amount of marijuana in the car.

The data were collected by state troopers on traffic details between July 2010 and December 2015 and analyzed by the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. The collection began amid nationwide concern about racial profiling by police.

The race or ethnicity of drivers was recorded in 278,129 of 282,938 traffic stops, leaving a gap of 4,809, which drew criticism from some at the meeting.

"That is a training issue. That is something we need to push down to our supervisors, to make sure we're getting complete data," said Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.

Mark Hughes, co-founder of the Montpelier-based advocacy group Justice For All, sought assurances there would be good follow-up by police working to correct biases.

Birmingham said the traffic-stop data would be compiled and analyzed annually as "an early-warning system" for any problems cropping up.


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