A study released this week by Northeastern University researchers shows that African-American and Hispanic drivers in Rhode Island continue to be subjected to disparate treatment by law enforcement, prompting concern from the ACLU and others in the civil rights community.
The on-going study, performed in accordance with a state law drafted by the ACLU and enacted by the General Assembly last year, analyzed traffic stops statistics data for October through December 2004 of every local police department. The report found that blacks and Hispanics pulled over by the police were more than twice as likely as whites to be searched or frisked, even though whites were more likely to be found with contraband when searched. The statistics suggest that little has changed since a 2003 study by the same researchers found widespread racial disparities in Rhode Island traffic enforcement. The results come despite a state law enacted last year that prohibits the practice of racial profiling, and despite assurances from police officials that departments have been working to address the problem.
The R.I. ACLU expressed deep concern today that the preliminary study results fail to show a reduction in the incidence of race-based policing. Executive Director Steven Brown said: “The 2003 study helped to open Rhode Islanders’ eyes to the problem of racial profiling. That the statistics do not appear to have improved since then is troubling to say the least.” He called “particularly disturbing” the fact that there was roughly a 10% error rate for traffic stop forms missing necessary data, even though the state law passed last year required supervisory police personnel to review the forms on a weekly basis to ensure accuracy. Brown said that the ACLU was preparing a response to the report, including recommendations to address the significant problems highlighted by the study.