Racial Profiling Vs. Different Races Breaking The Law At Different Rates

To start, I think we need a definition of Race.

Since this thread is about Racial Profiling and traffic stops, we are going to accept that race exists and it is defined by the common visual clues a police officer can observe.

So…if most cops would define someone as black, then for the purpose of this thread, they are black. The same goes for any other race.

This might not be the best way to define race in other circumstances, but it is where I would like to start in this thread.

I think it is a pretty well established school of thought that blacks suffer from an unusually high percentage of traffic stops. In recent years there have been many studies, particularly here in my home state of NJ, that demonstrate how the police focus on stopping minorities. There has been a big fuss made over the problem and the State is now trying to solve the problem.

So recently a report comes out that claims blacks speed more than whites.
Racial Profiling Story

It seems to me that the methodology seems pretty sound and unbiased.

So here are my questions for debate:

[1] Are there any obvious holes in this study that make it meaningless?

[2] If the study is an accurate picture of driving habits, then how does that effect how we are approaching racial profiling?

Before hitting your questions, Freedom, do you know if the raw data from the study are available online? The Findlaw article doesn’t give many details . . .

good question andros and one the federal government had asked as well feds think study is flawed

The study was commissioned to 'determine if ’ the State cops were doing something wrong, they’ve been lambasted in the past for racial profiling (the article I linked mentions an incident where several blacks were shot). And gee, this study comes along and says ‘well, gosh darn, they were only going on what observable data is…’

Now Wring

You’re throwing out the same smokescreen I’m trying to get behind.

What are the problems with the study?

Are there real concerns that invalidate the data or is this study just so politically incorrect that officials have to doubt it in order not to be branded a racist?

I don’t have a link to the actual survey yet, but here is some more data from Wring’s link:

I’m suggesting that we don’t have access to the methodolgy. However, we do have statements from Justice dept suggesting there were significant flaws in it. Do you really expect the press release from NJ is going to spell it out?

I’m also suggesting that NJ has a significant incentive to not only conduct a flawed study, but to also release the info pronto and in this type of manner.

Profiling for black drivers (even if we believe this study) is a stupid idea, since what they aught to be doing is stopping speeders - regardless of race. And even if the study is to be believed, because of the relative raw numbers of people involved, if the NJ cops were ticketing mostly black drivers, then it would seem clear that they’d be targeting blacks vs. targetting speeders.

100, 15 black 75 white, 15 other, percentage of speeders per category, and even if 2/3 of the blacks speed vs. only one third of the whites and 1/3 of the others, that would only be 10 black speeders, 25 white, and 5 others, then again, profiling (ie **specifically searching for the blacks), is still a stupid idea, since out of the potentially 40 speeders, you’d only get 1/4 of them.

um please read that last paragraph thusly :

If you have 100 drivers, by the racial breakdown given in the study, you’d have 15 black 75 white, 15 other. We don’t have the relative percentage of speeders per category, but even if 2/3 of the blacks speed vs. only one third of the whites and 1/3 of the others, that would still be only 10 black speeders, 25 white, and 5 others. Which means, profiling (ie **specifically searching for the blacks), is still a stupid idea, since out of the potentially 40 speeders, you’d only get 1/4 of them.

15 black, 75 white and 10 other. dammit. which makes the speeders numbers slightly off and the total again, but hell, you get the idea.

Time for me to go to dinner. yep, that’s it, arithmatic makes me hungry.

wring, after your dinner, try turning this study around to see its significance. First of all, we KNOW that racial profiling was going on in the past in NJ, because people have so testified.

Second, RP is wrong. It had to be stopped. Supposedly it has been stopped in NJ. But, how do we know whether or not RP is still taking place?

One way to find out is to compare the percents of White and Black drivers stopped by police. E.g., if 15% of drivers were Black, but 20% of those stopped were Black, then those figures would tend to indicate RP. However, this study suggests that a disproportion in the numbers of drivers stopped could be caused in whole or in part by different driving styles.

The study doesn’t justfy RP, but it does indicate that RP may be less of a problem than the raw numbers suggest.


Nobody is claiming that NJ tickets a larger raw number of blacks speeders than of whites.

The claim is that blacks receive a higher number of tickets than you would expect based on the percnetage of black drivers. The basic assumption in there is that all races drive about the same.

So it goes like this…

Everyone assumes that black drivers and white drivers exhibit the same driving habits. Black drivers are X percent of the total drivers on the road, yet they receive X+5 percent of the tickets.

Obviously there is a problem here.

However, if we change the assumption that all races drive the same, then the whole thing falls apart. If black drivers account for X% of all drivers, yet are X+5% of the speeders and receive X+5% of the tickets, then there is not a problem.
Either way…

I don’t disagree that NJ (and probably most of the country) has or had a racial profiling problem. The only thing this study is trying to do is provide a baseline that is objective so that we can see if there is a problem and how much of a problem we are facing.

Ok, I located the actual report one second after I hit the submit button for my last post. I guess the State didn’t want it released, so somehow the Bergen Record of NJ got ahold of it and posted it on the web.

Here is the link:

The Actual Report

It is in Adobe Acrobat.

I’ll post any more thoughts after I finish reading the actual report.

Good snag, Freedom. Thanks.

One problem that I see with the study, which was actually mentioned in the original link, is that is has nothing to do with profiling. It only has to do with speeding. It doesn’t look at people who were pulled over ,whether for speeding or other reasons, and didn’t look at who was given tickets. That’s an important part of profiling. If half the speeders are black and half are white, and half the tickets are written to blacks and the other half to whites, there’s no reason to think that the races are being treated differently,even though a higher percentage of black drivers were given tickets. On the other hand, if half the speeders were black, but 90% of the tickets were given to blacks, it at least suggests that something else is going on.

Ssshhhh… You’re not supposed to notice that different races break certain laws at different rates!

I find myself wondering if you have read anything in this thread.

This study is about establishing what the proportional number of tickets per racial group should be.

forgot this part-
I’ve never heard someone claim that a higher percentage of black drivers getting speeding tickets in and of itself indicated racial profiling. The New Jersey cases don’t only involve speeding. They also involve people who were stopped for other reasons If this:

is being done to blacks, and less often ( or not at all) to whites the speeding issue really doesn’t matter.

I’m just curious…

How easy is it to determine the race of drivers using the methodology these researchers employed?

How would you separate brown-skinned blacks from brown-skinned Southeast Asians, for instance?

And light-skinned black people can look like anything. White. Hispanic. Asian.

The researchers used a device that would take photos through the windshield rather than through the passenger/driverside windows (where cops sitting on the side of the road have visual access). One can argue that the windshield is more subject to sun glare, shadows, and other confounders. I saw a glimpse of the kind of photos the researchers used on the news, and I would have a hard time classifying the race of the drivers going on just those things alone. Granted, I’m not a ID expert, but I think there’s lots of room for ambiguity.

Also, I wonder how many cops find perps just by hanging on the side of the road, waiting for them to speed by. They now have those radar guns that don’t require you to be stationary in order to clock speeds. Is it possible that officers can zoom in and out of traffic, looking for (and at) people to pull over? I’ve never really thought about it before, but I’m sure it’s possible.

Another problem with the methodology is that anyone clocked at least 15 mph over the speed limit was considered speeding. This is in fact speeding, but in most places–particularly the NJ Turnpike–EVERYBODY goes this fast. I’m a slow-poke driver, but even I find myself going heavy on the gas on the Turnpike, just so that I don’t get tail-gated and cussed at by drivers behind me. If there are more white drivers than black, it seems to me that you’re statistically more likely to find whites going under this limit than blacks.

Think about it. If you have 100 drivers–70 white, 30 black–then all 30 black drivers could be speeding just to keep up with the 30 white drivers who keep riding up on their tail. In other words, we aren’t really talking about completely independent variables when it comes to comparing the behavior of white drivers and black drivers on the same road.


I know this is the assumption you are working from, but problems with this assumption are at the heart of the controversy, I believe. I would have more confidence in the data if they had verified their determinations by tracing licence plates numbers to informaton on driver’s licenses. That way we could be sure that someone they designated as black or white really wasn’t something else.

I think the Feds are right to be cautious about this. First off, racial profiling has been admitted by NJ state troopers, so I think it’s too late to try to cover their ass with a study–however strong the data are. Secondly, the very fact that NJ Justice Department commissioned this study–when there are obviously political implications involved–should raise eyebrows. I’m not saying the researchers did shoddy or unethical work, but you always have to be cautious about data which favor the agency who’s funding the research. That’s just a general rule of ethics. And lastly, it would be horrible PR for the state if questionable methods were come to light. And NJ doesn’t need any more bad PR, especially regarding the issue of racial profiling.

It would be interesting to see a detailed critique of the study. i noticed a couple points that might be worthy of a closer look.

Up to 25% of speeder identifications were considered unreliable and were excluded. It was assumed that these were raqndomly distributed but i have no idea how they make that determination. If these excluded drivers represent a biased sample then the numbers mean nothing. It was also interesting to note that there were lower rates of exclusion in the 55 mph area where no difference between blacks and whites was found.

I also found it interesting that the black speeders seem to come out in force when it is dark out. Daytime numbers didn’t show much difference.

In the NJ Turnpike the average speed is about 70-80mph, well over the speed limit. The cops catch some of the people who are doing it. A disroportionate # are Black. It does not mean that of all the people who were speeding, caught and uncaught, that proportion would remain the same.

That’s really a nice catch, Freedom, very interesting report. I think the key point of the report, and why it is more believable in my view, is that the speeding population (in the 65mph zones, where the differences occur) is very small. According to the study, only 1.7% of drivers are “speeding” in these zones at all. For the black population, it’s 2.7%, only 1% higher, but it seems extreme because the numbers are so low to begin with.

You only need a small additional portion of the black population to be leadfoots to cause this kind of result.

This report was the subject of a discussion on WLS radio last Fri night as I was deadheading home to Chi from Fla. I do not recall the name of the female guest who appeared quite familiar with this study. *(I’ve sent an e-mail to the radio host asking for more info. The study is currently loading incredibly slowly for me.) *

This guest apparently believed this study was accurate, and believed opposition to it was based upon political correctness. She said official opposition was primarily based upon the number of “unreadable” results due to glare, etc. But her position was that that would invalidate the findings only if the windshields of non-black drivers were susceptible to glare at a rate far higher than blacks.

I also found it interesting that speeding was defined as exceeding the limit by at least 15 MPH. As she presented it, blacks made up an even greater disproportionate percentage of drivers exceeding 90 MPH.

Personally, I think the study may well establish that at least on this stretch of road blacks speed more frequently than non-blacks. And I have no difficulty with LEOs using that information if their intent is to decrease speeding. However, I suspect that much racial profiling is done to create a subtext for stopping minorities on fishing expeditions.

In the Chicago area, profiling is a big issue both in the city and the northern burbs. I have mixed feelings about it. If stats show that specific crimes are far more likely to be committed by people of a particular race, gender, ethnicity, age, then I do not have major difficulty with LEOs paying more attention to those particular people. I readily acknowledge that this reflects my privileged position as a white, middle class male. For example, I understand that many white youths drive into te inner city to but drugs. It does not strike me as unreasonable for cops to pay particular attention to cars full of white youths in predominantly blac neighborhoods.

In reality, however, I suspect that racial profiling is used to hassle minorities, often to make them feel unwelcome in certain areas.

Moreover, I recall a legal decision I read some time back dealing with customs officers’ profiling in airports. A lengthy portion discussed factors considered indicative of a likely drug mule. For example, mules might tend to be persons with lots of luggage or people with little or no luggage. Some suspected people appearing anxious, while others targetted people appearing calm. People trying to get in the shortest line, or people contentedly waiting their turn. Old people or young. Men or women. Etc. Not exactly a precise science.