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Michigan State Police promising action after study finds racial disparities in traffic stops

2 troopers involved in Detroit crash
Posted at 12:47 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 12:47:11-05

(WXYZ) — Michigan State Police are pledging immediate action after an independent study found racial and ethnic disparities in the frequency and outcomes of traffic stops conducted by troopers in 2020.

Under a five-point plan, the response includes hiring an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies and recommend systemic changes. The response also includes equipping all troopers with body cameras, "launching a statewide listening and learning tour with African American leaders."

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said MSP Director Col. Joe
Gasper in a news release. “To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect. But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in Michigan State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that. Today, armed with new awareness about our traffic stop activity, we’re taking another step toward transparency for the communities we serve. We will fix this together.”

The report, which was compiled by Michigan State University, found that African Americans "were significantly more likely to be involved in a traffic stop than would be expected based on their representation in the population. The report also found that Hispanic and Asian drivers were less likely to be stopped than would be expected based on their representation in the population."

Additionally, African American drivers and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be searched or arrested after traffic stops. Asian drivers were significantly less likely to be searched or arrested compared to white drivers, but they were more likely to receive a citation.

Here is the five point plan:

  1. Hiring an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies with an eye toward making recommendations for systemic changes that will address racial disparities.
  2. Launching a statewide listening and engagement effort, in partnership with the Bridges to B.L.U.E. Citizen Advisory Council, in which MSP leadership will engage in open and honest conversation with leaders from communities of color, surfacing problems and finding solutions together.
  3. Making more data available to MSP troopers through a dashboard that will provide real-time traffic stop data so they can learn about and adjust their actions.
  4. Ramping up educational opportunities for troopers and recruits through the creation of the department’s Professional Development Bureau. This new bureau will provide training and development for enforcement members on familiar topics, as well as on new and emerging topics including mental health, wellness, de-escalation, cultural competency, decision-making, implicit bias and communication skills.
  5. Issuing body worn cameras to all enforcement members who could have enforcement contact with Michigan residents and visitors.

The department has posted the executive summary and full report on its Transparency and Accountability webpage at www.michigan.gov/MSPtransparency, and it is available directly at https://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,4643,7-123-1586_101168_109452---,00.html [lnks.gd].  

The NAACP issued the following statement about the report:

Today’s announcement by the Michigan State Police of racial and ethnic disparities in the frequency of traffic stops impacting African Americans is revealing but not surprising. Many of us in the civil rights community have been saying this for years. It is also an indication of what is happening in many local police departments across the state. Prior to COVID-19 on any Monday in court rooms across Michigan related to traffic citations and arrests, they were often filled with African Americans and people of color. They were lined up before a judge hoping to get an elimination of fines or reduction in costs with few points added to their driving record. The state police are correct in publicly announcing their internal issue that has created an external crisis for much too long. Colonel Joe Gasper is to be recognized for his openness to deal with this problem. The 5-point program outlined to address these issues, hiring an independent firm to review MSP policies, more listening and engagement with the very people who are negatively impacted by this systemic injustice, making more data available, issuing more cameras and devices to expose contact with citizens, greater training on de-escalation, cultural and racial competency, and mental health is all critical. This can lead to a necessary change of a culture rooted in militarism, old-boy-ism, nepotism and a kind of blue tribalism. The mentality of it’s “us against them” is outdated and must be changed.

We commend the department for exposing its flaws. Now let’s work together to advance its cures. The training and education is most valuable. Perhaps a relationship with Wayne County Community College District is in order. It can serve two purposes. One purpose would be a class or partnership to teach and learn cultural sensitivity, de-escalation techniques, and the true side of law enforcement. It would add a greater exposure to the police among the very people who are often impacted by the nature of their engagement with the MSP. It could help to bring a better understanding among the citizens and the department. It’s called Breaking Down Barriers. On the second part, it could serve as a base for recruitment of potential members of the state police from a much-needed community reflecting diversity and inclusion. Finally, it’s not enough to take responsibility. Responsibility with no accountability is simply an exercise in futility. We know not all officers are violating their trust. However, those found guilty of abusing the privilege to be a state trooper by un-fair stops and arrests must be disciplined. There must be certainty of holding violators accountable. Everyone must know this is not a game, this is real life. For those who believe they are not racists, while that may be true, your negative actions have a very negative racial impact. The results are still the same, racial disparities. The consequences of your lack of sensitivity to these issues is hurting a large segment of our citizenry. We can and must do better.

Today is a step in the right direction. Let us continue to move forward to fix this situation. We believe in the mission of the Michigan State Police when they say, “to provide the highest quality law enforcement and public safety services throughout Michigan.” Their Value Statement is “a proud tradition of service through excellence, integrity and courtesy.” We agree, in the words of Nike, “Just Do It.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following statement about the report:

Col. Gasper’s commitment to addressing these findings is also a commitment to leading by example. All law enforcement agencies should be willing to examine their practices in an effort to improve their relationship with the people they serve—effective public service cannot be reached without constructive reflection. I appreciate the brave members of our law enforcement community and know today’s announcement will lead to positive change.