By David M. Schwartz and Matt Clark
The Suffolk County Police Department subjected Black and Hispanic drivers to tougher enforcement actions than white motorists over the past two years, stopping and then searching the minority drivers and their vehicles at higher rates than experienced by whites, a Newsday analysis of police data has found.
Officers pulled over Black drivers almost four times more often than white drivers, and Hispanic drivers twice as often, when matched against the size of the driving age population of each group in the area patrolled by the Suffolk Police Department.
More tellingly, after stopping drivers, police searched Blacks over three times more frequently than whites, and Hispanics 1.7 times more frequently, Newsday’s analysis revealed.
At the same time, Suffolk police found contraband, such as an illegal weapon or drugs, when searching Black and Hispanic drivers less frequently than when they searched white motorists.
Traffic stops for offenses such as speeding, failure to signal and broken taillights are the most common — and familiar — enforcement actions taken by police. Because officers have discretion to choose which drivers to pull over and, critically, which to search, stops can also reveal evidence of whether a department applies the laws equally to members of different races or ethnicities.
“It’s where the story begins and where our attitudes begin in terms of how we perceive law enforcement,” said Jeffrey Butts, a research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If you’re pulled over all the time, and you think other people are behaving the same way you are, but they’re pulling you over, you immediately start thinking that police are biased, which means government is biased, which causes you to doubt the whole enterprise of democracy and government. So, it’s really serious.”
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