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April 29, 2007

Recent data on contacts with police

I've been on the mailing list for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a bureau within the Justice Department, for about the past 15 years. Sometimes I don't give BJS reports the attention they deserve, but I noticed this one. BJS has just released a report on contacts between police and the public in 2005. The full text is here.

There are several interesting findings in this report.

First, in 2005, about 41% of contacts with police were driver stops. In these stops, police stopped white, black, and hispanic drivers at essentially the same rates, between 8% and 9%. (See chart below.)

Second, if you look at the same chart, blacks and hispanics were subjected to searches at higher rates than whites. The report doesn't offer reasons; it just gives the data. This is certainly a disparity, but most of the accusations of racial profiling center on the stop itself, and these data suggest that there's no disparity at the point of the stop itself.

Third, among drivers stopped by police, 91.7% of whites, 83.7% of blacks, and 87.5% of hispanics felt the police acted properly during their contact. (See chart below.)

Although the percentage of blacks who said the police acted properly is lower than for the other groups, it is still surprisingly high. Five out of every six black drivers stopped by the police reported that the police acted properly during that stop.

None of this will satisfy people who think there's racial profiling going on, but this certainly suggests that the any profiling that may exist is not as prevalent it's often made out to be.

UPDATE: Right on time, the complainers weigh in. Including the ACLU.