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Stanford Researchers Develop New Statistical Test That Shows Racial Profiling In Police Traffic Stops

By Edmund Andrews

By analyzing data from 4.5 million traffic stops in 100 North Carolina cities, Stanford researchers have found that police in that state are more likely to search black and Hispanic motorists, using a lower threshold of suspicion, than when they stop white or Asian drivers.

The empirical study found that while blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched, those more numerous searches are less likely to uncover illegal drugs or weapons than searches of vehicles with white or Asian drivers.

Studies based on the incidence of searches by race, and the outcomes of those searches, have been done in the past, forming the basis for concerns about racial profiling by police.

But the Stanford team – graduate students Camelia Simoiu and Sam Corbett-Davies, and assistant professor of management science and engineeringSharad Goel – developed a third, entirely new measurement called a threshold test.

The researchers show that this new measure offers a statistically rigorous way to quantify how suspicious officers were to initiate a search. For example, did officers conduct searches when there was a 15 percent probability of finding weapons or drugs, or was a 5 percent inkling enough? They correlated these threshold assessments to the race or ethnicity of the subjects across the entire dataset of 4.5 million motor vehicle stops.

“Our threshold test suggests that officers apply a double standard when deciding whom to search, with black and Hispanic drivers searched on the basis of less evidence than whites and Asians,” said Simoiu, adding, “We consistently observe this pattern of behavior across the largest 100 police departments in the state.”

The study marks a new milestone in Stanford’s Project on Law, Order and Algorithms, which has already collected data on 50 million traffic stops in 11 states and is aiming to expand the database to 100 million stops from at least 30 states and every region of the Unites States. The purpose of the database, which the researchers plan to make publicly available, is to shed light on the prevalence of racial profiling and to identify techniques for improving police practices.

In the case of North Carolina, the researchers obtained records for traffic stops in the state from 2009 through 2014. The records included information about the ethnicity, age and gender of the people being pulled over and at least some information on the rationale of police officers for searching particular people and vehicles.

Racial differences

Until now, analysts have used two fairly simple statistical tests to look for patterns of racial profiling.

The first test, known as benchmarking, involves comparing search rates for people of different ethnicities. If blacks account for 10 percent of the local population but 30 percent of searches, that higher incidence would be evidence of discrimination. A second test examines the “hit” rate or outcome – the percentage of searches that actually lead to the discovery of weapons, drugs or other illegal contraband.

In North Carolina, both statistical tests provided strong evidence of unfounded racial discrimination. Police searched 5.4 percent of blacks and 4.1 percent of the Hispanics they pulled over, but only 3.1 percent of whites. In many cities and towns, however, searches of blacks and Hispanics were actually less likely to uncover contraband than searches of whites.

But even when both tests converge, this analysis has limitations. If a higher percentage of people in one ethnic group actually do carry illegal drugs or weapons, for example, a higher search rate for that group may not reflect racial discrimination.

So the Stanford researchers went further than prior studies to get a more accurate view of the presence or absence of unfounded discrimination.

They did this by developing a complex statistical tool they call a threshold test. It analyzed four variables for each of the 4.5 million stops:

  • Race of the driver
  • Department of the officer making the stop
  • Whether the stop resulted in a search – and, if a search occurred,
  • Whether it turned up drugs, guns or other contraband

These four variables provided a statistical snapshot of an officer’s threshold of suspicion before searching a person of a given race. As the authors wrote: “In nearly every one of the 100 departments we consider, we find that black and Hispanic drivers are subjected to a lower search threshold than whites, suggestive of widespread discrimination against these groups.”

Specifically, the study found that police decided to search black drivers based on a 7 percent certainty that they might be hiding something illegal. If an African American driver looks nervous, for example, police might interpret the nervousness as a sign of possible guilt and insist on a search.

For Hispanics, the search threshold was 6 percent certainty. But police in these 100 North Carolina cities wanted a 15 percent certainty before searching the vehicles of white drivers. The threshold for searching Asians was about the same as for whites.

Suspicions and searches

The finding has important implications, the researchers noted.

Had North Carolina’s police applied the same standard of suspicion to blacks as whites, the researchers estimate that they would have searched 30 percent fewer black drivers – about 30,000 people over the six years they study. Hispanics would have experienced a 50 percent reduction in searches affecting 8,000 drivers.

But while the new test reveals that the threshold of suspicion varies by race, the authors note a caveat.

“We cannot, however, definitively conclude that the disparities we see stem from racial bias,” they wrote. “For example, officers might instead be applying lower search thresholds to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, a demographic that is disproportionately black and Hispanic.”

The Stanford researchers are collecting traffic stop data from other states to see what patterns are revealed by their analyses. They are also considering ways to apply their new statistical methods to other settings where race or ethnicity may be a factor, such as mortgage lending and hiring.

“We hope our results spur further investigation into allegations of police discrimination, and help improve public policy,” Goel said.

 

SSI/SSP Increase Advances to Senate Appropriations

nadineSACRAMENTO, CA – AB 1584 by Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino) moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee after receiving unanimous support in the Senate Human Services Committee. The bill would reinstate the cost of living adjustment for the Social Security Insurance/State Supplemental Payment (SSI/SSP) grant, and lift an estimated 1.3 million Californians out of poverty.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for their advocacy on behalf on of California’s seniors,” Assemblymember Brown said. “This legislation will lift over one million seniors and adults with disabilities out of poverty.”

SSI/SSP grants assist seniors and other disabled Californians who are unable to work.  These benefits, administered by the Social Security Administration, provide income support to individuals who are over 65, blind or disabled. These grants are also available to qualified blind or disabled children.  Starting in 2008, cuts made by the Legislature and the Governor reduced grants to amounts well below the federal poverty level.

“As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that our seniors can age with dignity,” Assemblymember Brown said.  “AB 1584 is a small step toward the full restoration of recession era cuts to the SSI/SSP program, as well as preparation for the upcoming silver tsunami.”

Loma Linda University Health San Bernardino Campus Ribbon Cutting Signifies Opportunity for Education, Wellness and Hope, Now and for the Future

LOMA LINDA, CA- A joyful and emotional celebration marked the completion of Loma Linda University Health – San Bernardino Campus.

“This day is a dream come true,” said Loma Linda University Health president Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH. After years of planning and18 months of construction, the completion of the project brought Hart to tears as he spoke.

Over 500 members of the community came out to be a part of history for the City of San Bernardino as officials held the ribbon cutting ceremony for the campus Wednesday, June 22.

“We are opening the door to better health and the opportunity to fulfill important educational dreams for many in our region,” said Roger Hadley, MD, dean, LLU School of Medicine.

The one-of-a-kind health care and education facility funded in part by a generous gift of $10 million from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians will house the San Manuel Gateway College, an expanded multi-specialty medical clinic operated by Social Action Community Health System (SACHS) and a vegetarian restaurant, which will showcase the longevity enhancing benefits of a plant-based diet.

“I cannot think of a better partner than Loma Linda University Health – a relationship that goes back 110 years,” said Ken Ramirez, tribal secretary, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. “We are eager to continue to serve, educate and take care of the community we call our home and our family.”

The facility will soon be busy providing health care and education to members of the community: June 27 is move-in day for SACHS; behavioral health services, and family medicine residency; and current SACHS pediatric services begin Monday, July 18.

In early August, the pediatric teaching office begins services, and internal medicine and OB-GYN and specialty clinics begin services.

“I can’t help but get emotional,” said Nancy Young, CEO, SAC Health System. “This building has been our dream for so many years and it’s finally coming true. This project will be the beginning of the transformational healing for the city we all love and are honored to serve.”

San Manuel Gateway College programs, including medical assistant, front and back office skills and certified nurse assistant, are scheduled to begin in September.

Arwyn Wild, executive director of San Manuel Gateway College explained his eagerness to give high school kids the confidence and resources to succeed. “This is not about us,” he said, “it is about the future, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for our kids.”

Coming from the San Bernardino Unified School District, Wild knows firsthand the challenges many underserved kids in our area go through and what they need to succeed. In addition to the college and medical clinic, Farmacy Fresh Café will open in the fall offering a wide variety of ready-to-eat and cooked-to-order vegetarian dishes.