Study examines racial disparities in Vermont policing

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February 15, 2012, 8:53 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Colchester, Vt.) - "We still have a lot of work ahead of us," Vermont State Police director Col. Tom L'Esperance told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

L'Esperance was at the presentation of a new Northeastern University study that examined troopers' responses to traffic stops between July 2010 and June 2011. The analysis of nearly 50,000 stops showed the vast majority of drivers who were pulled over were white: more than 95 percent of the total number of traffic stops. That's logical in a mostly-white state.

What is more puzzling to the police is what the voluntary study discovered about the non-white drivers pulled over. They seemed to get proportionally more tickets, or have their cars searched slightly more often than white drivers.

VSP's study cannot point to exactly why that is, but the authors from Northeastern's Institute on Race and Justice found that police bias was not to blame. They wrote that the force’s approach to policing is professional.

"State Police are doing a really great job," said Curtiss Reed, the executive director of the Vt. Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. "There's no evidence of profiling, per se."

Vermont's Human Rights Commission still has worries. It believes that since all non-white races were lumped together in the study, that may dilute the impact on African American motorists. "[The study] certainly raises questions as to the degree of intrusion and sanctions imposed," executive director Robert Appel said. "There's more work to be done."

There is, L'Esperance admits, reason to keep studying why drivers from minority groups may be getting extra scrutiny.

A traffic stop last September put concerns over racial profiling in the spotlight. A VSP trooper pulled over a speeding truck. The migrant farm workers inside admitted to not having the proper documents to be in the country. Last September, one of the passengers in the truck told reporters through an interpreter that he felt the officer discriminated against him before arresting him. "Because of our color," Danilo Lopez said. "Because of our hair and our eyes; we looked different. [The trooper] pressured us and pressured us and pressured us until what happened happened."

A police advisory commission later said that trooper did nothing wrong. Policy has since been clarified to tell troopers to stay away from asking about immigration status.

The Vermont State Police force hopes publishing the voluntary report will help build trust and transparency, especially with minority groups. You can read it online by following this link.

Col. L'Esperance said he was encouraged that the study showed no inherent bias. He also noted the issue requires regular, serious attention. He pledged to visit each state police barracks and meet with troopers to ensure all drivers are treated fairly.

Tags: white, vermont, Northeastern University, African American, traffic stop , Colchester, Jack Thurston, racial profiling, policing, state police director, tom l'esperance, non-white, VSP, human right's commission, police advisory commission, immigration status, voluntary report, minority groups, northeastern institute on race and justice
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