Reporting and Analysis
Once data has been collected there are a number of challenges to evaluating the existence or prevalence of racial and gender profiling. State and local agencies nationwide have begun to mandate the collection of data on the characteristics of individuals stopped by the police. As a result, experts are developing new techniques for research and analysis to help policymakers, law enforcement officials and community members interpret such data. Such efforts are still in preliminary stages, however, and to date no "industry standard" exists for measuring racial or gender profiling.
Common Challenges to Data Reporting and Analysis:
Most jurisdictions that begin collecting demographic data about traffic stops or citations start with a relatively simple research question at the outset of data collection. They want to know: how stops, warnings, citations and searches vary by race, ethnicity, gender and age? Although questions about the existence of racial profiling seem straightforward, upon closer examination there are many potential challenges the successful analysis of such data.
- First, there are many competing definitions of racial and gender profiling. These definitions differ about the extent to which police may appropriately use race or gender as a decision to stop or search a motorist. Without a common understanding of what constitutes unlawful racial profiling it is difficult to interpret potential disparities that may exist between the demographics of those who are stopped and/or searched. For instance, the existence of a racial disparity may not constitute inappropriate racial profiling under a narrowly focused definition but could be interpreted as inappropriate racial profiling under a more broadly focused definition.
- Second, a comprehensive evaluation of traffic stop data must move beyond simple comparisons between the demographics of driving or residential populations and the demographics of citations or warnings. There may be disparities that exist in traffic citations or warnings that are attributable to factors other than discriminatory police practices. For example, factors such as the time of day, the location of the stop, and the type of unit or patrol practices may explain the existence disparities that appear in the aggregate.
- Third, construction of an appropriate benchmark against which to compare traffic citations or warnings is quite challenging. Because research on racial and gender disparities in traffic stops is relatively new, little consensus exists about the most statistically sound population against which to compare traffic stop or citation information.
- Fourth, racial or gender differences in both driving behavior and automobile type may affect rates of citations or warnings. Similarly, individuals from particular groups may be more likely to own and operate vehicles that are disproportionately subject to citations or warnings due to mechanical or registration problems.
Although many of these challenges can never be fully overcome by a statistical study of traffic citation and warning patterns alone, they are important for helping guide research efforts to better contextualize the issue of racial and gender profiling.
The Reporting and Analysis section includes discussions about the data collection methods, data auditing, finding appropriate internal and external benchmarks, and conducting a demographic analysis of search data. In addition, there are examples of how jurisdictions choose to report the results of data analysis, sample reports from various jurisdictions, and ideas about how a department and community might think about problem solving after the results have been reported.