A study of racial profiling, based on state statistics, shows minorities receive a disproportionate amount of traffic tickets in some Massachusetts communities.
The study, conducted by Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice and released this week, shows that 247 of the 341 agencies examined gave a greater proportion of tickets to minorities than expected given the racial makeup of the driving population.
Some of the communities gave only a slightly disproportionate number of tickets to minorities, but in others the numbers were striking.
Milton, just outside Boston, had the widest disparity. Fifty-eight percent of the people ticketed in the city were minorities, while the study estimated that only 15.8 percent of drivers were minorities.
In 29 communities, there was a gap of 10 percentage points or more between the proportion of minorities ticketed and the estimated proportion of minorities in the driving population.
Milton Deputy Police Chief Richard Wells Jr. said his town has many major highways and borders on diverse neighborhoods in both Quincy and Boston. The department has never received a racial profiling complaint but has scheduled diversity training for officers, he said.
“Do we need to look at everything? Yes, clearly,” Wells said.
A state law passed in 2000 requires police departments to report a variety of data on people given traffic tickets. The state began collecting the data in April 2001 and the study covered the period from then through June 2003.
State Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn called the release of the data an “absolutely essential first step” in starting a dialogue on racial profiling in Massachusetts.
The data doesn’t prove that racial profiling is occurring in the state, Flynn said, but “the data provides us a basis from which to ask intelligent questions.”
The report was released a day after Attorney General Tom Reilly told a Martin Luther King Day audience that the state’s law enforcement officials were committed to eliminating racial profiling.
“In the end, we are going to do everything within our power to eliminate the practice of ’driving while black,”’ Reilly said.
In the past four years, 25 states have enacted laws on racial profiling, and most have required police to document the race of the drivers they stop, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.