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Detroit Legal Blog

Recording Race at a Michigan Traffic Stop

Dec 21, 2016, by Maurice Davis in Constitutional Law, Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Traffic

After pressure from the ACLU, the Michigan State Police this summer revamped its policies on how race is recorded at traffic stops. Previously, officers did not systematically record the race of people they pulled over. Many traffic stop reports simply recorded the subject’s race as “unknown.” Now, police officers making traffic stops must record whether the driver of the pulled over car was:

  • White
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska native
  • Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

Both the ACLU and the Michigan State Police agree that this new policy will help ensure that people of color and minorities are not unfairly targeted by the enforcement of traffic laws. In light of the recent epidemic of police shootings, which often result from traffic stops involving people of color, this policy shift is an essential move towards more equitable policing.

The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union Takes a Stand on Racial Profiling

This August, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to the Michigan State Police outlining two related concerns about the law enforcement agency’s practices:

  • Individual Michigan State Troopers are expected to make a minimum number of traffic stops each month, which is equivalent to 70 percent of the average traffic stops made by troopers from the same post. This may give troopers an incentive to make unjustified traffic stops when they’re falling behind their quota.
  • Owing to the perception that people of color are less likely to challenge the arresting officer when they get pulled over for no reason, Michigan troopers are more likely to pull over minorities. Essentially, state troopers are pushed to racially profile drivers when seeking to raise their traffic stop numbers.

To avoid the issue of Michigan State Police officers pulling over people of color just to be able to meet their traffic stops quotas, the ACLU suggested that the agency do a better job of recording the race of subjects. That way, supervisors could spot patterns of improper traffic stops that target people of color, and put in place policies for addressing these patterns.

In response to the ACLU’s concerns, the Michigan State Police changed its policies. Troopers who previously recorded race in only 68 percent of Michigan traffic stops will now be required to do so in all cases. The Michigan State Police also stressed that their troopers are not held to strict traffic stop quotas. Instead, there is a comparison of an individual trooper’s number of traffic stops with that of their colleagues. This is only one metric among many by which performance is assessed.

Will the New Policy Make Michigan Law Enforcement Racially Equitable?

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are grappling with the problem that their enforcement activities – and use of force – disproportionately affect people of color. Michigan is no exception. They must continue to provide for the people’s safety while maintaining the trust of the communities they police.

Under the new policy for recording race, the Michigan State Police will be able to detect whether any of its members are disproportionately enforcing traffic laws against people of color. When this situation arises, the trooper’s supervisors can take action. And, if you are a person of color who is facing a criminal charge after a traffic stop, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to point to the arresting officer’s record on racial profiling in defending your case.

A Detroit Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

At Davis Law Group, we are able to better serve our clients by staying abreast of developments in law enforcement policy, state law, and legal precedents. This enables us to defend our clients’ interests to the fullest extent as they pass through the criminal justice system.

If you’ve been charged with a crime or want to talk with a Detroit traffic lawyer, call us today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.