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Saturday, June 23, 2012

North Carolina's "Stop & Frisk" Problem Is Similar To New York's: Profiling BLACK Citizens

Report: Blacks, Hispanics in North Carolina get searched by police more than whites

A trial lawyers task force has studied a decade's worth of law enforcement traffic stops in North Carolina and found that blacks and Hispanics are "systematically searched at much higher rates than whites."

The N.C. Advocates for Justice, formerly the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, analyzed almost 13.5 million traffic stop records covering a period from 2000 to mid-2011.

In a report this spring, the authors called their findings "deeply disturbing and may be indicative of a problem." They have called for the creation of a broad-based state commission to study the causes of the racial disparities at traffic stops and make recommendations.

The comprehensive report is a first of its kind in North Carolina, but not many state officials are aware of it.

The report was sent to only a half dozen of the state's top leaders, including Gov. Bev Perdue and state Attorney General Roy Cooper. No legislators from Cumberland County were aware of the report's existence until a reporter contacted them this week.

The Fayetteville Observer obtained a copy of the report's summary and analysis from a source at the N.C. General Assembly on the condition of anonymity.

Among other findings, the report said blacks and Hispanics are "almost twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested" as white drivers.

State Rep. Marvin Lucas, a Democrat from Spring Lake, expressed concern about the disparities.

"That sounds like something we ought to address," Lucas said.

The statewide findings are similar to the racial disparities in Fayetteville, where recent statistics showed almost three of every four people searched by police at traffic stops were black.

The Fayetteville City Council has responded to the controversy over the past year with police policy changes, the introduction of written consent forms and the installation of about 200 camera systems in patrol cars. The former city manager was asked to resign in March because of his handling of the issue.

Dick Taylor, the chief executive officer of the N.C. Advocates for Justice, said the task force was formed in response to a call by the American Bar Association that each state explore the role of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Taylor said members of his organization did not feel they should lead such a statewide examination of the issue, but they wanted to at least examine public traffic-stop records that most law enforcement agencies are required to submit to the state.

"We thought it might be a good way to demonstrate the need for North Carolina to have just a broad-based study," Taylor said Thursday.

Taylor said his group has reached out to top state leaders with the results of the analysis, urging action.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice, said Cooper and his staff had a productive meeting about the report on March 29 in his office with members of the N.C. Advocates for Justice.

"We agreed as a group that these issues deserve deeper examination and said the DOJ would participate," Talley said in an email Thursday. "We urged continued collaboration with state leaders and legislators and inclusion of more stakeholders."

Those stakeholders would include members of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, she said.

Spokesmen for the General Assembly's two leaders - House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger - could not be reached for comment.

According to the task force's report, Cabarrus, Onslow, Mecklenburg and Orange counties were among those "where disparities are significantly above statewide averages" for blacks.

Cumberland and Forsyth were among six counties that had the "lowest levels" of disparities for Hispanics.

Reporting Requirement:

In 2000, the state began requiring the State Highway Patrol to report traffic-stop data in response to complaints of racial profiling. The law eventually was applied to many other law enforcement agencies around the state, including Fayetteville and Hope Mills police and the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. Police departments in cities with fewer than 10,000 people are not required to report the data.

One state senator, Thom Goolsby, a Republican from Wilmington, filed Senate Bill 923 on May 30 that seeks to repeal the traffic-data reporting requirements. No one else has sponsored the bill, which has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goolsby did not return a message Thursday to comment about this bill.

Troy Williams, a former Cumberland County sheriff's deputy, first raised the issue of Fayetteville's racial disparities in traffic stops in a guest column published in the Observer in October 2010. He said the task force's report shows "a system of biased-based policing statewide."

"It's certainly not something that just happens in Fayetteville," Williams said. "But I give them credit for the policy changes they've instituted."

Fayetteville's outgoing police chief, Tom Bergamine, has vehemently denied accusations that his department has violated drivers' rights.

In March, city consultants with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives said the racial disparities in the city were a concern, but they were unable to document instances of racial profiling. They made 24 recommendation, mostly procedural.

Study: NC Minorities Get More Scrutiny In Stops

A review of data on traffic stops in North Carolina finds law enforcement officers are twice as likely to conduct searches of vehicles driven by minorities than whites.

Researchers for North Carolina Advocates for Justice reviewed state data collected on more than 13 million traffic stops conducted between 2000 and 2011. In addition to the higher risk for being stopped and searched, the data showed blacks and Hispanics are almost twice as likely as whites to be arrested following a traffic stop.

Dick Taylor, the chief executive of the trial lawyers' group behind the study, supports the creation of a broad-based commission to study the issue of racial and ethnic disparities in how laws are enforced on the state's roads and highways.

"When you are stopped, you are more likely to have a negative outcome if you're Hispanic or African-American," Taylor said. "The disparities are there. We need to look in a serious way at why that is the case."

The data used in the report was collected by the law officers themselves, following the passage of a 1999 state law intended to monitor racial profiling.

The new report was quietly sent in March to Gov. Beverly Perdue, Attorney General Roy Cooper, legislative leaders and other state policy makers, many of whom Taylor said he and other members of the lawyers' group have met with. The report became public Friday after a copy was obtained by The Fayetteville Observer.

Taylor said the group kept the results of the study quiet, recognizing the sensitivity of the topic. While he stressed that the Advocates were not suggesting the state's law enforcement agencies are institutionally racist, he said the data does raise troubling questions that need to be addressed, possibly with new training and educational programs.

The group's report cited other recent studies have focused on racial disparities within North Carolina's criminal justice system.

Black youths are three times more likely than whites to be referred to the state's juvenile courts, and once in the system three times more likely to be sent to a juvenile correctional facility or transferred to adult court.

Blacks make up 57 percent of the state's prison population, but only 22 percent of the state population as a whole. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for drug crimes, with the disparity growing even wider in some North Carolina jurisdictions.

In Wilson County, for example, blacks charged with drug offenses are 10 times more likely to be sent to prison than whites charged with similar crimes, according to the report.

Perdue spokeswoman Chris Mackey said the administration had arranged for members of the advocacy group to meet with the Governor's Crime Commission, which could potentially provide money for further study.

Cooper's spokeswoman, Noelle Talley, said the attorney general agrees more study is needed of the roots of the racial disparities reflected in the data.

"We urged continued collaboration with state leaders and legislators, and inclusion of more stakeholders, especially those involved in the criminal justice system at the community level, including law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and other members of the criminal justice system," Talley said.

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Sources: Fayetteville Observer, Fox News, Huffington Post, WRAL, Youtube, Google Maps

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