10/23/2006Rhode Island: Most Police Vehicle Searches Find Nothing
A Northeastern University study finds three-quarters of traffic stop searches are unnecessary.
Three out of four times a motorist is subjected to a police search, nothing illegal is found, according to a Northeastern University analysis of 288,483 traffic stops in Rhode Island from September 1, 2004 to October 30, 2005. The data was collected as part of an investigation of racial profiling practices.
"As the most frequent form of contact that law enforcement has with the citizenry, traffic stops have the potential to dramatically shape how individuals perceive the police," the report stated.
Statewide, about one-half of traffic stops resulted in a citation being issued while a third resulted in a warning. A motorist was searched or frisked in 6.7 percent of stops. In some communities such as Pawtucket, a motorist pulled over is almost definitely getting a ticket (93.7 percent chance). In others such as Newport, just 7.3 percent of stops resulted in a ticket.
"While some communities believe in the use of citations as a way of increasing traffic safety, others may see warnings as a more effective way to achieve the same goal without presenting undue burdens on residents or visitors," the report explained.
The researchers also found that the data may point to discrimination as a factor in some stops, but the numbers alone could not determine the question.
"Many jurisdictions continue to stop non-white drivers at a rate higher than would be expected in the driving population," the report concluded. "It is not possible to explain the degree to which such disparities are justified or legitimate with the information that was made available through the traffic stop statistics data."
A full copy of the report is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.