Review of Michigan State Police Shows Black Drivers Disproportionately Pulled Over in 2020

A review of the Michigan State Police (MSP) showed that African American drivers were disproportionately pulled over in 2020.

The research, conducted by the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice, found that African American motorists were more likely to be stopped than anticipated in consideration of several benchmarks, such as population, comparisons of daylight stops vs. nighttime stops and an analysis of crash data.

African American motorists were 231 percent more likely to be searched, as well as 155 percent more likely to be arrested compared to white motorists, according to the review.

The research had been commissioned by the Michigan State Police after the department found possible racial disparities.

"These findings demand immediate action. The people of Michigan deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability," said Colonel Joe Gasper, director of the state police.

On Wednesday, he pledged changes, outlining a five-point plan to better understand and tackle the disparities. The plan includes listening to communities of color and their leaders, hiring an expert to advise "systemic" policy changes and creating a dashboard with timely data so troopers "can learn about and adjust their own actions."

The department also plans to establish a professional development bureau to train employees and provide body-worn cameras to all personnel who could interact with the public. There is funding for the cameras in the state's current budget.

"Discrimination involves intent, whereas observed disparities do not speak to whether an officer acted with intent. This report and its findings speak only to the extent of racial or ethnic disparity in MSP's traffic stops. At the same time, the data do show a meaningful level of disparity that deserves more attention," said Scott Wolfe, a Michigan State University professor who headed the analysis.

Michigan State Police, Disproportionate Traffic Stops
On Wednesday, Colonel Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, pledged changes and outlined a five-point plan to better understand and tackle racial disparities uncovered by a recent report. In this photo, a Michigan State Police vehicle sits parked outside Comerica Park in Detroit on September 27, 2019. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

The study and Gasper's announced steps are the department's latest moves following years of scrutiny related to alleged racial profiling. At the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the department in 2017 revised its policies to require that troopers record the race of stopped drivers. In 2020, it announced it would hire a third-party research institution to review traffic stop data after a continuing increase in the percentage of traffic stops involving African American drivers.

In June, two Black motorists who had a tense two-hour encounter with white troopers and drug-sniffing dogs filed a lawsuit, demanding that the agency get outside help to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops.

The Reverend Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP's Detroit branch, credited Gasper for acknowledging the department's faults and being open to corrective actions unlike, he said, several of his predecessors. But he added there must be accountability for officers who violate the public's trust.

"While they may not be racist, the consequences of their actions have a great racial disparity," Reverend Anthony said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.