Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company
June 14, 2000, Wednesday Night Final Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A1
LENGTH: 2066 words
324,000 traffic citations analyzed
BYLINE: Andrew Garber; Seattle Times staff reporter
Copyright 2000, The Seattle Times Co.
Blacks living in
Blacks represent only about 9 percent of the driving-age
A Seattle Times analysis of more than 324,000 citations issued in the past five years also found blacks get more tickets per stop than whites and are more likely to be cited for certain offenses, such as defective headlights. For example, the number of tickets issued to blacks for blocking traffic is four times the proportion of blacks in the driving population.
The proportion of African Americans given tickets dropped from 20.5 percent of all stops in 1995 to 17 percent last year.
Still, the numbers from a Seattle Municipal Court database raise questions: Do police stop people based on the color of their skin? Is there a racial bias?
Police Chief Herbert Johnson, in a written statement, said "racial profiling is not tolerated by the Seattle Police Department."
Johnson, who declined requests for an interview, said the department is doing its own study, expected to be released by the end of the summer, that looks at traffic stops, as well as tickets issued. The study "should give a more thorough and accurate picture of enforcement," he wrote.
"We remain very sensitive to the issues raised, and will do our very best to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of ethics in providing law-enforcement services to all of our citizens."
City Councilman Richard McIver wants an independent study. "If there is a disproportionality, my concern is, what is the reason for that? It might be racism. It may very well be profiling."
The city needs to find out, he said.
J.D. Miller, a
"The only thing we'd ever profile in this city would be crime, and certainly we do that without any regard for the person's race," he said.
Miller and other law-enforcement officials said there are likely other explanations for the numbers that have nothing to do with race, including economics and where officers are stationed.
Researchers who study racial profiling say it's too early to draw conclusions based on traffic-ticket records.
David Harris, a professor of law at the
"You can't conclude it (racial profiling) is occurring," Harris said. "What you are seeing is an indication there may be a problem."
Harris and others said more study is needed, including
looking at all stops made by
Racial profiling is the use of race as a reason to stop drivers. Concerns have been raised nationally that the country's battle against drug use has led police officers to stop minorities for minor violations as a pretext to search for drugs and other contraband.
Profiling has become a volatile issue.
People from across
Emotions about racial profiling surged after an
African-American man with a history of mental illness was shot and killed by
David Walker was shot after stealing orange juice at a Lower Queen Anne supermarket and firing two gunshots in the store's parking lot. He was holding a knife and had a handgun when he was shot.
Protesters rallied outside Mayor Paul Schell's office last month complaining about a lack of progress on issues such as racial profiling and use of force by police.
Failure to use turn signal
Jabir Muied thinks race played a role when he was stopped and given traffic tickets earlier this year.
Muied was pulled over twice, in February and again in April,
Muied, a 20-year-old computer technician who commutes to
"The primary reason I think he pulled me over is not only because I drove a nice car in a bad neighborhood - he figures most of the people who live in South Seattle are ignorant and you can harass them with impunity," Muied said.
"I know several people who are harassed and pulled over on a regular basis who do nothing about it."
Muied challenged both tickets in court and was found not guilty.
The Rev. Robert Jeffrey, pastor of the
"They see an African American, and they want to explore the credibility of the person to be on the street," he said. "It's a racist thing."
"African Americans are now to the point where when they get behind the wheel and see a police officer, they automatically suspect if there is any slight thing wrong, that they are going to be pulled over," Jeffrey said.
Not every black driver stopped by police feels targeted.
Oscar Alexander of
He had received a warning before getting a ticket. It was something "I should have probably gotten fixed," he said.
Still, Alexander believes race shaped the officer's attitude after he was stopped. "I'm feeling he was just harassing me."
Researchers who study racial profiling look for information on whether blacks get a disproportionate number of tickets for minor offenses.
"At a crowded intersection, if a cop sees someone
run a red light, the cop goes after them. It doesn't make any difference if
they are white, black or whatever," said John Lamberth, a psychology
"However, for a low-inflated tire or a brake light that doesn't work, (police) see hundreds of those before they make a stop."
The Seattle Times analysis found that blacks living in
27 percent of all tickets issued for equipment violations.
33 percent of tickets for not using signals when required.
33.7 percent of tickets for defective headlights.
47.3 percent of tickets for not having an illuminated license plate.
The percentages drop for other offenses. For example, blacks received:
14.5 percent of the speeding tickets.
12.5 percent of tickets for illegal U-turns.
Court records also show that blacks are issued more tickets per stop than whites. Blacks, on average, received 1.43 tickets per stop compared with 1.28 for whites.
Lisa Daugaard, an attorney with the Seattle-King County Public Defenders Office, said the proportion of tickets issued to blacks for certain traffic violations fits what she sees in her practice.
"Based on our anecdotal experience with thousands of cases that originate in traffic stops, it is clear that these data reflect what we see all the time," she said. "Some people have an inordinately high chance of being stopped for what are utterly trivial infractions."
But law-enforcement officials say there are likely other explanations. It is important to look beyond the numbers. For example, blacks may be getting a disproportionate share of tickets because there are more officers patrolling areas with large populations of blacks, said Scott Reinacher, chairman of the National Troopers' Coalition.
And maybe there are economic factors involved, he said,
in terms of the ability of some blacks to afford to keep their cars in good
repair. According to the 1990 census, 24 percent of African Americans in
"The issue of race has become the trump card here," Reinacher said.
Harris, with the
"You can stop everybody out there for something," he said. "The traffic code, police officers know, is their best friend. That was true 30 years ago, and it's true now."
It's important for communities to find out if racial profiling exists, Harris said.
"It's a problem of the first magnitude because it undermines confidence in the justice system and because it is a problem distributed by race."
Seattle Times database specialist Justin Mayo assisted with this story.
Andrew Garber's phone message number is 206-464-2595. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
How tickets were analyzed
The Seattle Times examined traffic citations issued from June 1995 through May 2000 to people
whose last known address was in
The driving-age population - 9 percent black - was defined as 15 years or older.
By comparison, whites accounted for about 67 percent of the traffic stops resulting in tickets but made up almost 78 percent of the driving-age population. Asians received traffic tickets in proportion to their population.
All population figures were based on the 1990 census,
which provided the most reliable benchmark to estimate the number of drivers on
the road. Recent estimates show the overall proportion of
Out of a database with more than 478,000 tickets, The
Times looked at 324,000 citations issued to people whose last known address was
The Times' analysis examined the number and type of traffic tickets issued but did not look at disposition of cases.
Top three citations given
Most common traffic ticket given to city residents by the Seattle Police Department driving without vehicle insurance.
Percentage of those tickets given to whites 60.5 percent.
Percentage of those tickets given to blacks 26.6 percent.
Second- and third-most-common tickets speeding and disobeying traffic lights and signs.
Who gets tickets
chart below show three things for each race: 1. The
2. That race's share of traffic stops that resulted in tickets issues.
3. That race's share of all tickets issued (a stop may result in more than one ticket.
Percentage of the driving population
Share of stops that that resulted in tickets
Share of all tickets
Where black are heavily represented
are the traffic tickets where the
portion received by African Americans is highest. Blacks in
Percentage of total
Infraction number given
Unlawful use of license plates 37.05
Blocking traffic 35.94
No valid driver's license or valid ID 35.82
No lights while driving at night 35.71
No child restraint 34.03
Defective headlight 33.73
Failure to signal 33.01
Equipment violation (light, muffler, tires
Driving without motor-vehicle insurance 26.68
No driver's license in possession 25.81