April 17, 2016

Black drivers stopped more often than whites by local police

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Burlington (Apr 11) – City Council learned of racial profiling in Burlington Police Department traffic stops in a presentation given by Dr. Stephanie Seguino, an economics professor at the University of Vermont.  Seguino has been studying BPD traffic reports from 2012 to 2015 to see if there are differences between blacks and whites. “Black drivers are being over searched, or another way of looking at it is white drivers are being under searched” saidSeguino.

Dr. Stephanie Segunio presenting her study on Burlington Police Department Racial Disparities in Traffic Policing to City Council

This study shows that although blacks make up only 4.5% of the local population they accounted for 7.9% of traffic stops in town.  Also, car search rates of black drivers (3.3%) is three times the rate of searches for white drivers (1.1%) even though when searched white drivers were found with some kind of illegal substance or object 63.5% of the time as opposed to blacks who had a “hit” rate of 46.2%.  “Hit rates are significantly lower in blacks which shows that they are being searched with no results” said Segunio.

“It is incredibly helpful and sobering to see this information” Councilor Sharon Bushor of Ward 1 said.  Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo later joined Seguino at the table for questions and said he wants to make information like this available “quarterly” for the public.  Seguino also touched on the fact that there are “stark differences between the way Asian drivers and black driver are treated” but that wasn’t the focus of her report.

Vehicle searches can be conducted without a warrant with reasonable cause or suspicion but intentionally or unintentionally, Burlington police have been searching blacks at a much higher rate than whites.  “I don’t believe the smell of marijuana emanates any more from African-American cars more than it does white cars. This is Vermont” said Chief del Pozo on the matter.

“I think there’s a sincere interest in addressing the issue and I don’t know the police perspective but Chief del Pozohas been very welcoming” said Seguino when asked if she has received any negative feedback about the content of her study.

“I think in general it’s very hard for people to receive this kind of data because they feel like they’re being blamed and so I like to think of it as a diagnostic tool…that gives kind of a sense of where we’re at.” said Seguino.

Dr. Seguino hopes that her data helps bring light to these issues and that this helps community leaders acknowledge the issue and then begin to make changes.  Seguino believes there could be a public forum for people of color to talk about their interactions with Burlington Police happening in the near future.

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