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Driving While Intoxicated and Driving While Black

By: *Bruce Owens

Blog Topic: Racial Profiling and Traffic Stops

Driving While Intoxicated and Driving While Black: Analyzing the Inconsistency in Police Traffic Stops and the Proposal of House Bill 2661

Racial Profiling during traffic stops has been notorious in America for many years.  Take the state of Oregon, for example, where Representative Lew Frederick (D-Portland), an African-American male, who is the spokesperson for Portland’s Public Schools, has been stopped three times by the police near his own home.  Oregon’s minority population has been growing since the year 2000 where the population for Hispanics “rose from 8 percent in 2000 to 11.7 percent in 2010,” while African-Americans grew from a substantially small percentage of 1.6 to a miniscule 1.8 percent.  According to an Oregon State Police study in the year 2001-02, it was reported that minorities were “no more likely to be stopped than whites.”  However, they received arrests and citations, rather than warnings, “at greater rates than whites after being stopped.” This has become a huge issue, especially in areas of Oregon where the amount of minority drivers is substantially outweighed by drivers that are white.

It is not always easy to determine, from an outsider’s perspective, whether traffic stops of all or most minorities are actually the result of some illegal activity or being at the wrong place at the wrong time due to heightened suspicions of officers at night or in being in an urban area.  However, a recent attempt by Rep. Frederick is aimed at requiring the collection of data on these type of statistics to help determine what the core issue is when police are making these types of decisions.  The Bill proposed by Rep. Frederick, House Bill 2661, would require a study by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to collect data on police stops of minorities.  Frederick states, “It’s clear we have racial disparities in stops, arrests and other law enforcement actions.”  “What we do not have is the data to show where it is happening and how often it is happening.”

The Bill will specifically collect data on the following:
1)    Disparities in the racial or economic status of people that are stopped or “subjected to the use of force by police officers;”
2)   The effect racial and economic status “on interactions not related to crime between police officers and members of the public;” AND
3)   “Recruitment and retention of minorities by law enforcement agencies, district attorney offices,” and other facilities.

On paper, this seems like a progressive way of targeting the issue of racial profiling by the police, specifically in traffic stops.  However, the question, as it always will be with legislative bills, is how effective will this study actually be?

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

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*Bruce Owens is a staff member on Widener’s Journal of Law, Economics & Race. To learn more about Bruce, Click here to visit his page.

To learn more about this topic see:

Peter Wong, Bill Would Gather Data On Police Stops of Minorities, Statesmen Journal (Mar. 15, 2013), http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130312/NEWS/303120016/Bill-would-gather-data-police-stops-minorities.

Hannah Hoffman, Bill Would Require More Collection of Crime Data On Minorities, Statesmen Journal (Mar. 15, 2013), http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130306/UPDATE/130305058/Bill-would-require-more-collection-crime-data-minorities.

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