TOPEKA, Kansas— Black drivers receive a disproportionately higher number of tickets than white motorists in some Kansas cities.
Still, the extent of any racial bias in traffic stops remains unclear largely because there are no statewide requirements for police to track data. That leaves individual cities and counties to create their own policies — giving, at best, an inconsistent picture of black drivers’ vulnerability to getting pulled over.
Traffic stops are among the most common interactions between police and civilians, said Sharon Brett, legal director at the ACLU of Kansas. The lack of data leaves glaring gaps in police interactions and makes it harder to see whether agencies have racial bias issues, she said.
Racial disparities exist in other policing settings. Despite making up just 6.1% of the state’s population, Black Kansans make up 16.5% of those arrested for lesser crimes in 2021, according to data from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
“If you see racial disparities in one aspect of policing,” Brett said, “you’ll likely find those same disparities in other aspects of policing, if you just care to look.”
The Kansas News Service requested traffic stop data from several law enforcement agencies. Here are the results:
Topeka Police Department
-TPD gave 617 citations from January 1 to the end of April 2022.
-10% of citations were for black motorists. Topeka is 10.5% black.
-TPD does not track ethnicity even though Topeka is 15.3% Hispanic or Latino, the second largest racial or ethnic group in the city.
Riley County Police Department
-RCPD issued 6,307 citations and warnings in 2021.
-14% of them were black. Riley County is 7% black.
-6.3% of them were Hispanics. Riley County is 8.4% Hispanic or Latino.
-2.1% of them were for Asians. Riley County is 4.9% Asian.
Wichita Police Department
-WPD gave 27,724 citations in 2021.
-17.5% of them were for blacks. Wichita is 10.3% black.
-14.2% of them were Hispanics. Wichita is 17.4% Hispanic.
-2.8% of them were for Asians. Wichita is 4.9% Asian.
The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department does not track arrest or traffic citation demographics and has not commented on why it does. Brett said agencies should expand the measures they track. She said statistics are important, but encouraged agencies to make them productive.
“You can only fix problems that you identify,” Brett said, “and you can only identify problems when you track data that would reveal a problem.”
Hutchinson, Kansas, Police Chief Jeffrey Hooper said his department does not have demographic data and said there are logistical hurdles to collecting it. Brett said police could track the data if they wanted. After all, several agencies already do this. But Hooper said attempts to gather information may not yield accurate results.
Driver’s licenses do not readily offer race or ethnicity. This means officers may have to guess. Police could ask for information, but Hooper said too many people wouldn’t answer questions and that would cloud conclusions drawn from the data.
“If you’re going to report statistics,” he said, “they have to be accurate.”
Hooper said he would gladly follow the news if logistical hurdles were removed, such as if driver’s licenses contained the news. In addition to mandatory bias training, he said his department tries to find racial bias where it can.
Body camera footage of a Hutchinson police officer is reviewed, including traffic stops, at random times throughout the year. Hooper said that if there were any problematic officers, people reviewing the tape would see racial bias in those interactions.
“When I got into law enforcement it was like, ‘Well, don’t racially profile anybody, don’t be biased,'” he said. “We all know that we are all human and that each person has prejudices. We then need to get officers to understand what those implicit biases might be. »
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news outlets free of charge with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at email@example.com.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health, and how they relate to public policy.
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