RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new state report says Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested by police than white drivers in Virginia.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services reviewed 567,181 traffic stops made in the commonwealth from July 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. The annual analysis was due in July under the Community Policing Act but wasn’t published until September.
Similar to the department’s first annual report from July 2021, the analysis says the results are preliminary and, despite finding racial disparities in traffic stops, there is not enough information “to determine the extent to which these disparities may or may not be due to bias-based profiling or to other factors that can vary depending on race or ethnicity.”
The report found Black drivers were overrepresented, regardless of the reason for the traffic stop. Only 19.5% of Virginia’s driving-age population in the dataset used for the report was Black, but Black drivers accounted for 30.8% of those stopped.
“Hispanic drivers (of any race) were also stopped at higher rates than White drivers, although not to the same extent as Black drivers,” the report states.
Per the analysis, Hispanic drivers represented 8.9% of Virginia’s driving-age population but made up 9.5% of drivers stopped by law enforcement.
“The overall finding of this analysis is that, statewide, Black and Hispanic drivers in Virginia were disproportionately stopped by law enforcement when compared to other drivers between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, based on the number of drivers stopped relative to their numbers in Virginia’s driving-age population,” the report concludes. “This type of disparity was seen among traffic stops made by many individual law enforcement agencies for which disparity measures could be calculated.”
In an interview on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) said the language of the report downplays the impact of bias in policing.
“This is generational. As an African American man, we know that these things happen and we know why. There is a lot of bias,” Scott said. “There is bias in everything but, in policing, we should be trying to train it out and not trying to deny that it exists.”
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeff Katz, who is also the president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, accused some lawmakers of “selective outrage.”
Asked if racial profiling is playing any role in the disparity, Katz said, “With my experience in law enforcement, with the people that I work with, it is not a factor.”
Katz said he was not concerned by the data. He said the results were in line with racial disparities in other areas, such as traffic fatalities.
“There is a great disproportionality of Black and Hispanic drivers who die behind the wheel in Virginia. Nobody is concerned about that but they are concerned about villainizing law enforcement for trying to keep our roads safe. Lawmakers in Virginia made that more difficult,” Katz said.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law in 2020 making certain minor infractions on the roadway, such as a broken brake or tail light, into secondary infractions that can’t be used as the sole basis to pull a driver over. The law also bans officers from conducting searches based on the smell of marijuana alone. The goal was to limit contact with law enforcement and, hopefully, mitigate racial disparities.
Overall, traffic stops in Virginia went down slightly from the previous year. There were 613,483 stops in the 2021 analysis, compared to 567,181 traffic stops in the most recent reporting period.
Nearly 97% of stops were for traffic or equipment violations, according to the report. Traffic stops that led authorities to search the driver or vehicle dropped from last year’s rate of 3.8% to 2.4%. Arrests dipped 0.5% compared to last year’s rate, accounting for 1.5% of stops in this year’s report.
Officers used force in 652 cases, or 0.1% of all stops reported. The subject of the stop used force against law enforcement in 730 cases, or 0.1% of all encounters, the report says.
A Youngkin spokesperson did not respond to a request to interview Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier on Wednesday. A statement from Mosier, a former Fauquier County sheriff, repeated many of the points in the report.
“The information presented in this report is preliminary. Although this analysis identified disparities in traffic stop rates related to race/ethnicity, it does not allow us to determine or measure specific reasons for these disparities,” Mosier’s statement read. “Further, the data within the Community Policing Database does not document—at all, let alone with respect to race or ethnicity—what happens after a given traffic stop, search, or arrest, such as findings within the judicial system about the appropriateness or adherence to due process.”
Among new recommendations for 2022, the report states the General Assembly should consider giving more specifics regarding the types of investigatory detentions that require data collection under the Community Policing Act. The 2022 report also recommended a change to make the deadline for the state’s analysis to be moved from July to November.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.