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Suspicion and Traffic Stops: Crime Control or Racial Profiling

NCJ Number
International Journal of Police Science and Management Volume: 10 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2008 Pages: 89-100
Gennaro F. Vito; William F. Walsh
Date Published
12 pages
In addressing the questions of both effective crime control and racial profiling, this study presents an analysis of traffic stop data from Louisville, KY focusing on factors that led police officers to note that they had pre-existing knowledge about certain persons who were stopped, a factor known as suspicion.
Across groups, there was some evidence that known drivers were more likely to be African-American but the know group was equally divided in racial groups in year 2. Known drivers were also significantly more likely to be young, male, city residents as well. In terms of crime control, it appears that the known group confirmed the suspicion of police officers. In terms of dangerousness, the known drivers were much more likely to be charged with and arrested for a drug offense over the 2-year period. In sum, the involvement of the known drivers in drug possession appeared to justify the focus of the police in traffic stop procedures. Within the group, there was no evidence of discrimination in police officer discretion. It appears that the police focus on this group of drivers was warranted by their actions and offenses. Suspicion is an understudied factor in police discretionary decisionmaking. Also, the issue of racial profiling by police has become a major policy issue in recent years. This study considered factors related to officers’ pre-existing knowledge designation with specific emphasis on race. Focusing on a comparison between all drivers stopped and those where the police noted that they had pre-existing knowledge about the vehicle or the driver, an analysis was conducted on traffic stop data collected by the Louisville Police Department in Kentucky during a 2-year period. Tables, references