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Oakwood Traffic Stop Analysis Alleges Racial Discrimination

police car with lights on
Scott Davidson
Flickr Creative Commons

Black drivers are pulled over in Oakwood more often than other drivers: this is one of the findings in a new report alleging the city also tickets black drivers more often than a neighboring community with a larger African-American population.

Legal Aid firm Advocates For Basic Legal Equality and University of Dayton Criminal Justice professor Martha Hurley, director of the criminal justice studies program, produced the report.

In it, researchers analyzed 2016 traffic-ticket data from Oakwood and Kettering and looked at the race of drivers stopped in both communities.

ABLE senior attorney Ellis Jacobs says the analysis reveals a pattern of bias.

“And what we discovered was that 33 percent of the tickets given out in Oakwood were given to black drivers. Oakwood is .1 percent black,” Ellis says. 

Oakwood officials strongly dispute the report’s findings and methodology. 

According to the report's findings, black drivers in Oakwood accounted for nearly 22 percent of the stops where a problem with driving or equipment was observed, but they accounted for nearly 37 percent of stops where a license plate check was run without tickets being written for an observable driving or equipment problem.

"These “license plate check” stops do not result from bad driving or faulty equipment but from an officer’s decision to run the plate of a passing car. In these stops, officer discretion is at its greatest. It is striking that such an outsized percentage of these tickets are given to Black drivers," the report finds.

Researchers point out one year of data is not sufficient to analyze longterm trends, noting some police stops may also be unrecorded. There were other blindspots, including:

"Because time of day of the stop was not provided, we could not tell whether the ability of the officers to see the race of drivers had an impact on the frequency of stops. Time of day can be an important variable in determining the existence of racial profiling. Racial disparities across police stops may be most strongly associated with certain officers. We did not attempt to do this analysis. We did not have the ability to analyze the location of stops. It is possible that differential enforcement (high enforcement or low enforcement) in a particular area of Oakwood generated the disparities.

"An equally troubling question, which the data did not allow us to analyze, is whether stops resulted in the initiation of an interview, search, or seizure leading to arrest. A traffic stop is not a mere inconvenience but can have powerful, sometimes life altering, collateral consequences for people who are stopped," the report finds. 

The researchers stop short of speculating on reasons for the disparity in Oakwood traffic stops and tickets. ABLE is calling on Oakwood to conduct its own independent study of more recent traffic stop data in an effort to identify current trends.

In a statement, Oakwood city officials say they're still reviewing the report and the data behind it.

They say Oakwood Public Safety is committed to fair policing practices.

"It is noteworthy that although the authors of the report state that it is evidence-based, the report omits any tabulation of the underlying data and sets forth an anonymous, anecdotal quote in place of any substantive conclusions. The city of Oakwood has serious concerns about the manner in which the report is presented and questions its methodology. However, the city is always committed to continuing improvement in our delivery of public services, and will examine our procedures to ensure they are consistent with acceptable best practices. Regardless of race or any other factor, every citizen deserves fair and equal treatment under the law. The Oakwood Public Safety Department has a long-standing and ongoing commitment to this belief, which is incorporated into the department’s policies, practices, and recurring training in the areas of unbiased policing and cultural diversity. We take all necessary actions to ensure that police practices in our community are nondiscriminatory and unbiased, and will continue to do so," the statement reads.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding America initiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.