The likelihood of being stopped by the Washington State Patrol on state roads and highways is not affected by a driver’s race or ethnicity, according to Washington State University researchers who analyzed two million WSP contacts between May 2000 and October 2002.
The WSU report was issued last summer by political scientists Nicholas Lovrich and Mitchell Pickerill, criminal justice professors Michael Gaffney and Michael R. Smith, and sociologist Clay Mosher. Unlike studies in other states, the report indicates no evidence of biased policing in the rate of driver stops.
Washington is one of at least 14 states that have passed legislation to help eliminate “the illegal use of race or ethnicity as a factor” in detaining individuals. Nevertheless, it’s clear, Mosher says, that many citizens believe racial profiling is taking place-that minorities are subject to a disproportionate number of stops by WSP officers, despite evidence to the contrary.
This gap between the actual conduct of the WSP and how citizens perceive WSP’s actions must be addressed, he says. He believes WSU’s report will serve as a foundation for such a task. Left unattended, the issue could undermine the public trust in the WSP.
Unlike previous analyses of racial profiling which split subject populations into broad White and non-White categories, the WSU study categorized the population into Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. In addition, many analyses have looked at entire cities or states, a practice which can serve to conceal important contextual differences in law enforcement across small geographic areas. By contrast, where traffic-stop data permitted, the WSU researchers presented analyses from WSP’s 40 autonomous patrol areas.