Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2019

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Blacks, Hispanics in Nevada more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops

CARSON CITY -- A study on racial profiling says blacks and Hispanics in Nevada are more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops than whites.

The minority groups are also handcuffed and arrested by law enforcement at a higher percentage than whites, says the yearlong study, released today.

The findings "show racial disparities in traffic stops," said Richard McCorkle, chairman of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Criminal Justice, who authored the study. But he cautioned, "this should not be taken as proof that Nevada law enforcement officers are engaging in racial profiling."

The information gathered does not "permit firm conclusions" on whether racial profiling exists, McCorkle said. For example, he said, it is not known if driving behaviors vary across racial groups or whether the amount of time members of the group drive on roads and highways is different.

In the study, ordered by the 2001 Legislature, officers from agencies in Clark and Washoe counties and the Nevada Highway Patrol filled out a survey after each stop, recording the driver's race, reason for the stop and other details. The information is to be presented to the 2003 Legislature.

McCorkle's analysis showed of the 399,771 stops made statewide, 11.2 percent involved black drivers, who make up only 6.2 percent of the state's population, based on the 2000 census. Hispanic drivers were involved in 19.3 percent of the stops, compared with their 17.1 percent share of the population.

White drivers made up 63.8 percent of stops, but 65.2 percent of the population. Asians were involved in 4.2 percent of the stops, compared with their population of 4.7 percent. Other races composed 3.5 percent of Nevada's population but they were stopped only 1.4 percent of the time.

Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who pushed through a bill in the Legislature to order the study, said he was not surprised by the findings.

"In many police departments their training has been in a military model, where they single out groups rather than individuals.

"The training looks at blacks as a group that should be controlled," said Neal, the first black in the state Senate.

The difference was more marked in the Metro Police Department's jurisdiction. Of 182,828 traffic stops, 15.5 percent involved black drivers, compared with an 8.8 percent population in Clark County. Hispanics made up 23 percent of the stops, but 22 percent of the population.

"We recognize that this study shows a disparity and we are concerned," Metro Undersheriff Douglas Gillespie said in a statement. The agency "is particularly concerned with what the numbers indicate happens after the stop."

The study showed among Metro stops that blacks were handcuffed 5 percent of the time and Hispanics 3.5 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for whites. The percentage of blacks arrested was 3.4 percent and Hispanics 2.3 percent, compared to 1.7 percent for whites.

"After a full evaluation of the data, we look forward to working with our community partners to address concerns arising from the study," Gillespie said.

Metro's record was a little lower than the statewide averages: Blacks were handcuffed 6.2 percent of the time in the state, and Hispanics 4.6 percent, compared with 2.8 percent for whites. Black drivers statewide were arrested 4.5 percent of the time, compared to 2.2 percent for white drivers.

Blacks also were more likely to be searched statewide. "Across all agencies, black drivers were searched at a high rate, more than twice the rate of white drivers (9.5 percent to 3.9 percent)," McCorkle said. Hispanics were searched 7.6 percent of the time.

But drugs were found more often in cars of white motorists, McCorkle said.

"Nearly 70 percent of all drivers stopped during the study were cited for traffic violations. Black drivers were less likely to receive a citation than drivers of other races and more likely to be warned," he said.

Neal has already asked for a bill to make racial profiling a misdemeanor.

He said law enforcement officers have a right to pull motorists over if they have a legitimate suspicion, but they should not be making traffic stops just because the driver has a shiny car.

McCorkle said the statewide statistics shows 68 percent of all stops were initiated because of a moving violation. "Whites were generally less likely to be stopped for non-moving violations (e.g. equipment or registration) than were blacks and Hispanics."

The report also said 70.8 percent of the traffic stops involved males and an estimated 38.5 percent were between 18 and 29 years old. Officers estimated the age.

"Black, Hispanic and Asian drivers involved in traffic stopped were generally younger than whites. Compared to whites, black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to have had two or more persons in their vehicles," McCorkle said.

McCorkle noted there was some disparity among police agencies in the state.

The report showed of 13,949 stops made by Henderson Police blacks were involved in 7 percent, compared with a population of 3.6 percent. Hispanics composed 10.7 percent of the population but made up 11.5 percent of the stops.

Blacks were handcuffed in 3.7 percent of the stops and Hispanics 4.8 percent compared with 2.4 percent of whites in Henderson. Blacks were arrested 3.2 percent of the time, Hispanics 3.4 percent and whites 2.1 percent.

A Henderson Police spokesman said department complied with the racial profiling study, but declined further comment.

Of 15,603 traffic stops North Las Vegas police conducted, 30.9 percent involved blacks when the population amounted to 18.4 percent. Hispanics comprised 34.4 percent of the stops compared with 34.1 percent of the population.

Blacks were handcuffed 13.7 percent of the time in North Las Vegas; Hispanics 12.1 percent and whites 6.8 percent. Blacks were arrested in 9.2 percent of the time, Hispanics 8.6 percent and whites 4.6 percent.

North Las Vegas Police Chief Mark Paresi said that his department complied with the legislature's mandate to fill out the cards and that his department is developing a racial profiling accountability program to be instituted in March, a department spokesman said.

Gary Peck, executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, said the study shows that the treatment after the traffic stop is made depends on race, "and that is a problem." Another study should be done, he said.