Reams of research on police traffic stops across the nation couldn’t be clearer: Studies prove that racial profiling is real when it comes to the choices cops make about pulling over motorists.
Minneapolis is no different. A recent local study confirmed what African-American and other people of color have experienced for years. Officers stop and often search minorities at significantly higher rates — even though the vast majority of the stops don’t improve safety, uncover a crime or result in an arrest.
As a result of concerns raised by the community, the Minneapolis City Council is discussing asking the police to temporarily suspend certain types of traffic stops — including broken taillights or headlights. Yet before adopting blanket bans, city officials along with the community should look more closely at the data to determine which types of stops can help combat crime and which do not.
Concerns were raised last fall after the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office released a study showing that more than 50 percent of those pulled over for vehicle equipment violations in the city were black, even though blacks make up only about 20 percent of the population. In north Minneapolis, where higher numbers of black people live, about 80 percent of those pulled over were black, while 12 percent were white.
A federal judge found that New York City police using the widely debated practice known as “stop-and-frisk’’ routinely racially profiled drivers and made unconstitutional stops. NYPD dramatically reduced the practice, dropping the number of stops from a peak of 686,000 in 2011 to 12,000 in 2016. And even with fewer stops, the city’s crime rates decreased.
In a study released in November on police practices in Nashville, researchers found that traffic stops do not translate into reduced crime. Those researchers recommended that the Nashville Police Department acknowledge racial-profiling actions and take steps to reduce the number of stops.
Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher said, “There’s no question that we have a problem with racially based stops … and it seems that the equipment-based stops are the most egregious.” Fletcher, who is vice chair of the council’s public safety committee, told an editorial writer that he is open to possible targeted moratoriums because trust in police is eroded every time a person of color is unnecessarily stopped.
Fletcher also believes that learning more about the effectiveness of certain types of stops would help build community support for continuing the kinds that get firearms, drugs and criminals off the streets.
Although significant racial differences remain, Minneapolis police have been making fewer total stops. According to Police Department figures, traffic enforcement stops have dropped by nearly 70 percent over 10 years — from roughly 92,400 in 2010 to 29,150 in 2017. That has occurred as the department has tried to rebuild public trust.
Those communities most affected by traffic stops rightly want to end the racially biased practice of pulling over and sometimes searching motorists because of the color of their skin. Many of those same communities also want officers to make stops that help protect them from gun- and drug-related violence. Any changes to current traffic stop-and-search policies must strike a balance between those two worthy goals.