University of Nebraska, State Patrol Team Up
To Study Racial ProfilingLINCOLN, Neb.
The Nebraska State Patrol will partner with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) to study racial profiling in traffic stops.
The partnership was announced late last month, just before the patrol released preliminary results showing Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be searched than White drivers.
Seven percent of Black motorists stopped by state troopers during the first three months of the year were searched compared to 1 percent of White motorists, according to data released by the patrol. Six percent of Hispanic drivers were searched during that time.
“I’m aware of the first-quarter statistics, and I am surprised by some of the numbers,” Patrol Superintendent Col. Tom Nesbitt says.
However, he says it’s important to remember the data only reflects three months and it will take more time and information to get a complete picture. He also said the patrol has received only one racial profiling complaint during the first quarter.
UNO will study the state’s driving population and will help analyze the patrol’s traffic stop data using its findings about drivers’ race, age and likelihood of disobeying traffic laws.
A survey of the driving population is necessary in order to analyze traffic stop data, especially regarding the racial breakdown of drivers contacted along Interstate 80, says patrol spokeswoman Terri Teuber. Because the driving population of Interstate 80 does not reflect the population of Nebraska, the survey will provide a baseline for comparison purposes, she says.
“I think it’s very important that you know the demographics of the area you’re working,” Nesbitt says. “It’s important … so we can compare what’s taking place with our officers with what’s going on out there.”
“The official data they have, the numbers don’t speak for themselves,” says Samuel Walker with UNO’s criminal justice program. “You need an estimate of the at-risk population.”
Walker hopes to provide that estimate by placing spotters at locations around the state to record the apparent race of drivers.
The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Nebraska Mexican-American Commission applauded the study.
“I think having non-law enforcement review … is the best way to make sure the numbers are prepared and presented in a fair and accurate manner,” says spokeswoman Amy Miller. “The question that has remained is whether it is a few bad actors who are causing the numbers to flare or whether profiling is an institutional problem.”
“When racial profiling became a big issue, a lot of agencies said they’re not profiling but the State Patrol is taking one step further to show their commitment with their willingness to be examined,” says Cecilia Huerta, director of the Mexican-American Commission.
The study has no timetable for completion but its first year of data likely will be available this winter, Walker says.
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