Are Traffic Stops Prone to Racial Bias?

By Vignesh Ramachandran and Katie Kramon

How often does race come into play when cops stop motorists? The answer is: Nobody really knows. In the last few years, videos of traffic stops have created a national debate about the way law enforcement treats minorities. The case of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who died in jail after a Texas state trooper stopped and then arrested her in 2015, is among the recent examples of confrontational behavior by officers caught on tape.

Bland’s case and others have spurred calls for more reliable information — everything from police video to data logged every time someone is pulled over — because traffic stops are one of the most common ways members of the public interact with the police.

But this information is hard to come by because of a patchwork of laws and regulations across the country, a research project at Stanford University has found. The project — Law, Order & Algorithms — has found that even though a little more than half the states, 31, routinely collect data on race (based on officer perception), the way it’s collected is far from uniform.