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Thursday, June 30, 2005 10:11 pm

Driving while nonwhite

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Chief Don Kliment, Prof. Michael H. Hazlett, and Mayor Tim Davlin
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

On Tuesday, Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin released the findings of the city’s first-ever traffic-stop study, the purpose of which, according to a press release, was to “determine significant patterns and differences in traffic stops in the city of Springfield” toward the ultimate goal: bias-free policing.

The point of the $3,500 study, conducted by Professor Michael H. Hazlett of the Law Enforcement and Justice Administration faculty of Western Illinois University, was to analyze data compiled in 2004 by the Illinois Department of Transportation and establish trends in racial profiling by cops of Springfield drivers.  

“As I began to break down some of the information, it’s true that there were more nonwhite stops in the northeast and the northwest sides of Springfield,” Hazlett told reporters at a press conference. “However, it’s also interesting to note that white stops were significantly higher, proportionally, to what you would expect in the East Side of Springfield.”

Hazlett revealed that nonwhites are more than two times likelier to be pulled over relative to their percentage of the city population, 190.5 percent higher than expected. The ethnic groups most likely to be searched and arrested were African-Americans and Native Americans.

Nevertheless, Hazlett maintains that ethnicity alone is not the highest predictor of whether a driver will be stopped. According to Hazlett, police patrol beats are the best gauge of where traffic stops might occur. Other predictors include the driver’s age, the vehicle’s age, time of day, month of the year, and neighborhood.

Ward 2 Ald. Frank W. McNeil says that he has mixed feelings about the findings of the study. Although the numbers of traffic stops and subsequent arrests are disproportionately high in his East Side ward, McNeil says that he can understand those results because he has asked for an increased police presence. But more important than what drivers who are stopped look like, he says, is where they’re from.

“Where are the people living that were stopped? How many people that are stopped live in Ward 2?” McNeil asks. He wants to examine Hazlett’s report even more thoroughly to determine whether the folks being stopped in his ward actually live there. He speculates that the abnormally high number of whites the study found who were stopped on the East Side were there because of that area’s high rate of drug trafficking.

The Hazlett report, which is available on the city’s Web site, www.springfield.il.us,  makes several recommendations, including more diversity and sensitivity training and analysis of traffic-stop reporting forms, which officers are supposed to complete whenever they make a traffic stop.

According to Police Chief Don Kliment, the diversity training will begin with a 10-minute-long informational DVD produced by the Chicago Police Department on the customs of several religious groups.

“Training can be there, but the commitment has to be with the officer,” McNeil says in response to Hazlett’s recommendations.

“Diversity training is key, and, if a person understands that, we’ll have less tension.”

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