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UVM Study Finds Racial Disparities In Traffic Stop Data From Vermont Police Departments

Patti Daniels
UVM economist Stephanie Seguino presents the findings of a report examining racial disparities in police traffic stops in Vermont at a press conference at UVM on Monday. Seguino is the report's lead author.

A new University of Vermont study shows disparities in how police officers around the state treat drivers of different races. Among the findings in the report: Black drivers in Vermont are twice as likely to be arrested after a traffic stop than white drivers are.

The study analyzes discretionary police traffic stops and focuses on what happens after the initial interaction between a driver and an officer.

The report also shows that black and Hispanic drivers are three to four times more likely to be searched after a traffic stop than white drivers are, but that white and Asian drivers are more likely to be caught with serious contraband.

"I think it is always shocking to get data that tell you that you're not where you want to be," said Stephanie Seguino, UVM economist and the report's lead author.

Seguino told Vermont Edition on Monday that she commends police departments across the state for their willingness to examine racial disparities in their work.

"The results should not be surprising to anybody," Seguino said. "The real issue here is that Vermont has taken on the challenge of being self-aware and of trying to improve policing so that it fairly treats and supports all of the communities in our state."

A 2014 Vermont law requires police agencies to track and analyze racial data. Twenty-nine police departments across Vermont provided their data to the study, making this the largest analysis yet of racial disparities in police traffic stops in Vermont.

"I think it is always shocking to get data that tell you that you're not where you want to be." - Stephanie Seguino, UVM study's lead author

The report says better data collection is needed going forward, and that many police departments don't have the staffing to collect thorough and accurate data. Another recommendation is better training for police to understand racial bias.

"The way I approach it with my officers is, number one, four hours of training is not going to take the implicit bias or racism or dispositions out of someone," said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, also speaking on Monday's Vermont Edition.

Listen to the entire Vermont Edition discussion of the report.

Del Pozo says the data's accuracy can be improved, but even still, he calls the information "illuminating."

"My police officers feel like they work really hard, they really do have the public interest at heart," del Pozo said. "They're alarmed at the thought that they're doing harm in doing this.

"And we need to find a way to say to them, 'Listen – you are doing great work, you are serving the public,' and if we could address this vulnerability in the way we do police work, to help cops feel like they're doing the very good work that they're doing without feeling that they're carrying this albatross around with them as well."

Seguino says Vermont is at the forefront of comprehensively collecting this kind of police data and making it publicly available. She wants to continue doing this analysis on yearly basis.

Patti is an integral part of VPR's news effort and part of the team that created Vermont Edition. As executive producer, Patti supervises the team that puts Vermont Edition on the air every day, working with producers to select and research show ideas, select guests and develop the sound and tone of the program.
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