Study finds racial disparities in traffic stops by Michigan State Police

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Michigan State Police.

Michigan State Police are pledging to take action after an independent study found racial disparities in traffic stops by troopers.

The study, conducted by Michigan State University and commissioned by MSP, concluded that Black drivers were more likely to be pulled over and were more frequently searched and arrested than other drivers.

The study also found that Black drivers were more likely to be pulled over during the daytime, when the race of the driver can be seen by a trooper.

“African-American drivers experienced significant disparities with respect to MSP traffic stops,” the study states. “They were also more likely to be stopped during daylight compared to during darkness, which suggests racial bias may play a role in some troopers’ stop behavior.”

Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper acknowledged the study’s findings and said the agency will equip all troopers with body cameras. He also pledged to hire an independent consulting firm to review the agency’s policies and recommend systemic changes to address the disparities. In addition, the Michigan State Police will provide cultural awareness training and launch a statewide listening tour with Black leaders.

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency, and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” Gasper said in a statement. “To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect. But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in Michigan State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that. Today, armed with new awareness about our traffic stop activity, we’re taking another step toward transparency for the communities we serve. We will fix this together.”

Civil rights leaders said they weren’t surprised by the study's findings but applauded the agency’s willingness to address the problem.

“The results of this study confirm what people of color around the country have always known,” said Rev. Dr. Daniel Moore, Sr., pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Flint. “Racial disparity in policing is real. I am glad to see the Michigan State Police and Colonel Gasper are taking this head on, and I will work with them to deliver the high standard of law enforcement that everyone deserves.”

The authors of the study said there’s not enough evidence to conclude that the disparities are the result of discrimination.

“The results should not be interpreted as evidence of the existence of racially discriminatory traffic stop practices at MSP,” the study states. “Rather, based on the findings, we strongly encourage MSP to dedicate additional time to more fully understand the extent to which observed disparities manifest because of discriminatory practices.”

Tene-Sandra M. Ramsey, field director for nonprofit The Black Slate in Detroit, said MSP is “moving in the right direction, but we all have to work together to ensure these findings and action plans drive real, long-lasting changes in policing.”

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John E. Johnson, Jr., commended MSP for taking action.

“I applaud the Michigan State Police for commissioning this important study and for their transparency in reporting what it revealed,” Johnson said. “The disparate treatment of black and brown people when engaging with law enforcement is not a surprise, but this study quantified that which we all know is happening. Knowing the truth is the first step toward fixing the problem."

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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