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State police traffic stops of Black drivers rose in 2017-19

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan State Police said the agency’s proportion of traffic stops of African American drivers “merits further review” to avoid “disparate treatment of some motorists,” and it has also created a citizen advisory council to help department leaders address practices.

Troopers from the Second District Motor Unit conducted their operation on Interstate 696, near I-275, and made 89 traffic stops of motorists who weren’t paying attention while they were driving.

State police officials revealed the news Friday while announcing a “Transparency and Accountability” web page that features data on MSP’s use of force and traffic enforcement. It also includes information on topics such as department policies, training requirements and staffing numbers.

“We know that accountability and transparency are necessary components for building community trust and support, which is the goal of this new webpage and the purpose for creating the Bridges to BLUE Citizen Advisory Council,” Col. Joseph Gasper, the state police director, said in a statement. 

“By sharing information about the operations of the department, both online and with the Bridges to BLUE Citizen Advisory Council, it is my hope that we’ll increase police-community relations through better understanding, develop improved policies and contribute to more informed discussions about police reform.”

The launch coincides with calls for criminal justice reform amid national protests following the death of George Floyd and other African-Americans during encounters with law enforcement.

A recent Detroit News report found some Black motorists in southeast Michigan felt targeted during police traffic stops.

MSP said starting Jan. 1, 2017, the agency modified its reporting system to capture the race of people encountered during traffic stops.

A review of 2017-19 traffic stop data found the percentage of African American drivers stopped rose from 17.36% in 2017 to 20.54% last year, state police said. Those numbers represented 76,924 and 84,283 stops, respectively.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports Blacks make up about 14.1% of Michigan’s population.

“Research in other states has shown there are important factors that must be considered when analyzing traffic stop data, including the setting of an accurate baseline for comparison and information on the location of the stop, reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and the outcome of the stop,” state police said. “To accomplish this advanced analysis, the MSP will employ the expertise of an independent third-party research institution to perform a comprehensive and in-depth review of its traffic stop data, taking into account all of the associated datasets.”

Meanwhile, state police reported four use-of-force incidents in 2019.

State police said they are “committed to unbiased policing and the equitable treatment of all persons,” and agency policy “prohibits stopping or detaining anyone based solely on their race or ethnicity.”

“The members of the Michigan State Police hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional conduct and we remain committed to performing our jobs with excellence, integrity and courtesy, treating all people with dignity and respect,” Gasper said Friday. “If we find we can improve upon our practices to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all people, you have my commitment that we will make the necessary changes.”

The Bridges to BLUE (Build.Listen.Unite.Engage.) Citizen Advisory Council was launched this month to offer insight and help find new ways to boost community engagement, state officials said Friday. The group includes 10 volunteers.

“We are at a critical impasse related to community and police relations,” said member Donnell White, chief diversity officer and director of strategic partnerships for TCF National Bank and a previous Detroit Branch NAACP executive director. “We all have a responsibility to bring forth solutions and support law enforcement and the community at-large.”

The Rev. Daniel E. Moore Sr., pastor at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Flint, added: “The restoration of community trust in law enforcement is fundamental to fighting crime and increasing public safety. I believe the MSP citizen advisory council will serve as a catalyst to that bridge building effort.”