(Washington, DC) The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) released a study of racial and ethnic profiling in the District of Columbia on December 29, 2006. The report, which was an important first step in examining these issues, offered a mixed assessment of whether profiling by the police occurs in Washington, DC.
The study found that African-American and Latino pedestrians who walk in or near some of the city’s major tourist, shopping, and entertainment areas risk being stopped at disproportionately high rates by MPD officers.
The MPD study, which was designed and conducted for MPD by the consultant it hired, Dr. John C. Lamberth, collected pedestrian stop data at five locations and gathered traffic stop data at 20 sites in the nation’s capital.
The MPD study found that at two of the District locations surveyed for pedestrian stops -- the area surrounding the intersection of 17th and Euclid streets, NW, (Adams Morgan) and the area surrounding the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, NW, (the main intersection in Georgetown) -- African Americans were more likely to be stopped by MPD officers than non-African-Americans. At one of the District locations surveyed, the site in Adams Morgan, Latinos were more likely to be stopped by MPD officers than non-Latinos.
The study used an “odds ratio,” a statistical calculation that compares the likelihood of a particular event occurring between two groups, to determine whether minorities were being disproportionately stopped by MPD officers. According to the study, “the odds ratio is best understood by filling in the blank in the following sentence: ‘If you are a Black motorist/pedestrian, you are ___ times as likely to be stopped as if you were not a Black motorist/pedestrian.’” The study states that an odds ratio of 1.0 means that “Black motorists/pedestrians are no more likely to be stopped than nonminority motorists/pedestrians.”
The study found that the odds ratio for African Americans stopped while walking at the Adams Morgan site was 1.8, making African-American pedestrians nearly twice as likely to be stopped as non-African Americans. The odds ratio at the Georgetown site was 5.8, meaning that African-American pedestrians in that area were stopped at a rate almost six times higher than would be expected in the pedestrian population. The MPD study notes that such a high odds ratio at the Georgetown site “is difficult to explain absent targeting of African-American pedestrians.”
For Latino pedestrians, the MPD study found that the odds ratio at the Adams Morgan site was 2.0, making Latino pedestrians twice as likely as non-Latinos to be stopped by MPD officers. There were too few stops of Latinos at the remaining four pedestrian survey sites to allow for a proper analysis.
With respect to traffic stops, pertinent findings of the study include the following:
- At nine of the traffic locations surveyed, fewer African-American motorists than expected were stopped, based on their representation in the driving population.
- At two of the traffic locations surveyed -- the Adams Morgan site and the area surrounding the intersection of 1st Street and Channing Street, NW, -- the odds ratio for African-American motorists was 1.5.
- Three of the traffic locations surveyed -- the 3200 block of 23rd Street, SE, the 2700 Block of 13th Street, NW, and the area surrounding the intersection of 1st and R streets, NW, -- produced an odds ratio of 1.6 for African Americans stopped while driving.
- Three of the traffic locations surveyed -- the area surrounding Georgia Avenue and Shepard Street, NW, the area surrounding Georgia Avenue and Longfellow Street, NW, and the Georgetown site -- produced odds ratios of 1.6 or above for Latinos stopped while driving.
According to the study, “[r]atios between 1.5 and 2.0 provide an indication that a review of stops in these locations should be conducted by the MPD.”
Despite the individual results for each traffic site examined, the MPD study made use of “weighted” odds ratios. By using this averaging method and collapsing the data, the MPD study reports that the weighted odds ratio for African-American motorists stopped (at the 20 sites analyzed for African Americans) was 1.0. The MPD study also reports that the weighted odds ratio for Latino drivers stopped (at the seven sites analyzed for Latinos) was 1.1. Significantly, the MPD study provides an explicit “caution” about aggregating the odds ratio in this manner, pointing out that it is not for analytic purposes.
In March 2001, following extensive coverage in the local media that some MPD officers were exchanging e-mails on their patrol car laptops that contained racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs, former MPD Police Chief Charles Ramsey stated that the department would address biased policing issues and collect traffic stop data. MPD formed an advisory group, the Biased Policing Task Force, to guide the department’s review of these issues. The task force included representatives of several community and advocacy organizations in the city, as well as staff from the District’s police accountability agency, the Office of Police Complaints (OPC). MPD also hired a law enforcement research organization, the Police Foundation, to examine the issue of biased policing within the department.
Concerned about the possibility of biased policing in the District, OPC issued a report and set of recommendations in January 2002 urging MPD to collect and analyze traffic stop data.
In September 2004, the Police Foundation released its own report. Among other findings, the report revealed that 72 percent of the African-American respondents and 68 percent of the Latino respondents believed that “police are more likely to stop non-whites for traffic violations.”
Because OPC is independent of MPD, OPC retained its own consultant to assess the MPD study. “Our consultant, Dr. Lorie Fridell, has produced a report commenting on the study,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director. “In her report, Dr. Fridell has also put together a set of forward-looking recommendations to address the issue of biased policing in the District. We hope that MPD will collaborate with our office and other participants of the Biased Policing Task Force to build upon the contributions of MPD’s study and Dr. Fridell’s report.”
Dr. Fridell is a social scientist, university professor, and former director of research for the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a law enforcement research organization. She is also a nationally recognized expert on racial profiling.
A copy of Dr. Fridell’s report, which is being released today, is available on OPC’s website:
- Biased Policing Project: A Review of the Vehicle/Pedestrian Stop Study & Recommendations for Next Steps[PDF]
A copy of the reports issued by MPD and the Police Foundation, are also available online:
Final Report for the Metropolitan Poilce Department in the District of Columbia
The Police Foundation