The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 10, 2009

<i>Racial profiling:</i> Blacks, Hispanics more likely to be stopped in W.Va.

CHARLESTON — A study commisioned by lawmakers on alleged racial profiling by West Virginia police shows black and Hispanic motorists are more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

Lawmakers authorized the Division of Criminal Justice study to resolve racial profiling accusations against law enforcement officials. The study presented to lawmakers Monday was based on 301,479 traffic stops recorded by police across West Virginia between April 2007 and September 2008.

“It doesn’t answer the question of whether racial profiling is taking place,” said Stephen Haas, director of the division’s statistical analysis center. “It does answer the question of disparity of whites, blacks and Hispanics.”

Although nearly 94 percent of the drivers stopped were white, the study found that blacks and Hispanics were at least 1.5 times more likely to be stopped by police. And once stopped, the study found, they were more likely to be arrested or receive a citation.

Also, blacks and Hispanics were at least twice as likely to be searched.

However, the study showed that once searched, whites were more likely to have drugs and other contraband on them than either blacks or Hispanics.

“The fact that they are being searched at higher rates then whites, but less contraband is being found, it raises questions as to what were the reasons for the stop and search,” Haas said.

Franklin Crabtree, executive director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said researchers might not be able to say racial profiling exists, but circumstantial evidence suggests it.

“This study indicates we civil libertarians have a lot of work to do in West Virginia,” he said.

The ACLU sued the city of Charleston in 2002 after city police stopped a vehicle with three black students who were participating in a leadership program at West Virginia State College.

West Virginia NAACP President Kenneth Hale said in a statement that the results aren’t surprising. But Hale said it’s disappointing to see “that people of color are still being disproportionally singled out to be stopped and searched when they travel on the state’s roads.”

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