Researchers at Stanford University led the largest-ever study specifically focusing on racial profiling during traffic stops. They say that while black drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers during the day, the shade of night reduces the likelihood that they’ll be stopped because “a veil of darkness” masks their faces. The term “veil of darkness” was first used by a study of traffic stops in Oakland, California in 2006. The study of 8,000 drivers tried to identify a relationship between the race of a driver and the likelihood they would be stopped at any time of day. The findings of that study were inconclusive, so researchers followed up with a much larger study, reviewing 95 million traffic stop records from 2011-2018.
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“Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias, and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities,” the researchers write in their journal article. The authors created their database of traffic stop records filed by officers with 21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police forces. The database only includes traffic stops that took place around 7pm because, depending on the time of year and daylight saving time, it can either be quite light or very dark at 7 p.m. This ensured that there were fewer variables that could cloud the findings of their study. Results show that not only are blacks more likely to be stopped during times when it is lighter outside, but once police officers have stopped a car for a traffic violation, they are more likely to search the car if the driver is black or Hispanic than if they were white. In the states of Washington and Colorado where marijuana has been legalized, there was a reduction in the number of car searches during a traffic stop. However, the data shows that minorities are still more likely to have their car searched after being pulled over.
Photo Credit: Stanford University