By Brian Farkas
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.”
The Legislature has been debating racial profiling since 2002. Lawmakers adopted th Racial Profiling Data Collection Act in 2004 and approved rules governing the study in 2006.
The study required officers to note the type of violation the vehicle was stopped for and whether the officers issued a citation, warning or took no action. They also must note the time and day of each stop, how long the stop lasted and the patrol area and county where the stop occurred.
Information was collected by city police, county sheriff’s deputies and state police troopers.
Speeding was the most common reason for a traffic stop. And only 4.6 percent of all stops resulted in a search, the study found. Contraband was not found in 53.6 percent of the searches.
The study said disparity ratios were highest in Barbour, Berkeley, Hardy, Jefferson, Preston and Summers counties. Minority drivers were two-and-a-half to six times more likely to be searched in Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Hardy, Mason, Mineral, Mingo, Pleasants, Randolph and Wirt counties.
Among cities, Parkersburg recorded the highest disparity with blacks more then twice as likely to be stopped then white drivers. Charleston led in searches with blacks being nearly five times more likely to be searched.
Despite the higher search rates for black drivers in Charleston, Beckley, Huntington and Wheeling, the report said the contraband “hit” rate for blacks was lower than for whites.
Among county sheriff’s departments, Putnam County led the state with blacks nearly 2.5 times more likely to be stopped and 3.5 times more likely to be searched.
Blacks were 4.5 times as likely to be searched by state troopers assigned to the Parkersburg detachment, and three times as likely by troopers attached to the South Charleston detachment, the study said.
Officials the state sheriff’s association and fraternal order of police did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said Tuesday the agency had not seen the report, but troopers stopped filling out the forms on Jan. 1.
Haas said it will be up to the Legislature to decide if additional studies are needed.
House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, co-sponsored the study legislation in 2006. Webster did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.
In the meantime, Crabtree said the study is a “really good step. At least we have a good idea of what we’re dealing with.”