Traffic Study: Blacks two times more likely to get searched by police during stops in Wilmington

Published: Apr. 14, 2015 at 3:52 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2015 at 3:52 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A new study from professors at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill shows that black drivers are more than two times more likely to be searched by police during traffic stops in Wilmington than whites.

The study shows that blacks are searched 134 percent more than whites.

Of the 20 North Carolina cities examined by UNC-CH, Wilmington had the second biggest disparity in black to white search ratio.

The only city with a greater disparity was Jacksonville, where African Americans are searched 174 percent more than white drivers during traffic stops.

Click here to see the full study and list of cities.

"I want to bring attention to what the official statistics collected by the police officers themselves demonstrate about racial disparity," explained UNC political science professor Frank Baumgartner

The professor said that the disparity between black and white searches is only increasing over time.

"This is a really hard time right now for police. There's a lot of attention and I think the attention is merited. I think there are issues," Baumgartner stated.

He said his hope is that the study will catch the eye of police officials and insight change.

"Police departments themselves will understand that this isn't going to go away. We're not going to stop collecting these data and that maybe the data can be helpful for the police chiefs to understand and monitor the behaviors of their officers," he said.

Katy Parker, an attorney from Wilmington focusing on civil rights cases, said she was not surprised to see the statistics in the study.

"You need more community policing. I think that if officers were on the street and talking to people instead of being in their cars and pulling people over for minor offenses, there would be less distrust between the community, particularly the African American community and the police department," said Parker.

The WPD issued the following response to the study:

The Wilmington Police Department provides traffic stop data to the NC Department of Justice on an annual basis. While we have not had an opportunity to thoroughly review the UNC Chapel Hill study our numbers from 2013 - 2014 indicate a drop in the number of overall traffic stops city-wide by 11.06%, within that includes a 2% drop in the number of traffic stops among African- Americans. The numbers from 2013-2014 indicate the number of searches of African-American motorists has declined by 33%. In that same year nearly half of the drivers stopped by police gave consent to search their vehicles. The majority of the remaining motorists searches were initiated based on probable cause.

"We realize the importance of tracking this information and monitoring it's results. While the annual numbers give a lot of information, they do not consider other factors that often determine why an officer stops a motorist including crime rates in areas where stops often occur", says Chief Ralph Evangelous.

In another study supported by the NC Associations of Chiefs of Police and the NC Sheriff's Association, conducted by North Carolina Central University Professor Deborah Weisel. Weisel cautions that "Concluding that racial bias is proven by mere racial disparities in rates of police actions (stops, searches, arrests) is generally recognized to be an unreliable indicator of bias." (copy of study attached) Copies of the Wilmington Police Department's Annual Internal Affairs Report are on our website for public review. These reports contain yearly traffic stop data and summaries. The 2014 report will be posted within the next month.

While the WPD's total stops and searches are down, last year's numbers are actually proportionally higher for African American searches relative to the study.

The study's 12 year average states that African Americans in Wilmington were 2.34 times more likely to get searched.

In 2013, African Americans were 2.79 times more likely to be searched according to WPD stats.

In 2014, African Americans were 2.59 times more likely to be searched according to WPD stats.

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