Stanford University Study Develops Method to Quantify Racial Bias in Traffic Stops

A new study conducted by the Stanford Open Policing Project found that Black drivers stopped by police are more likely to be cited, searched, and arrested than White drivers. Researchers examined data on millions of traffic tops by highway patrols across the United States from 2011 to 2015.

The intellectual heart of the project involved the development of a more nuanced and statistically valid way to infer racial or ethnic discrimination after a person is pulled over for a traffic stop. The researchers call their approach the threshold test. It quantifies the following question: once a driver is pulled over, what level of suspicion must an officer have to conduct a search, and how does this threshold of suspicion relate to the race or ethnicity of the driver?

“We have seen many anecdotal reports of bias but we need more than that to accurately show the experience of motorists who are minorities,” said Cheryl Phillips, a professor of journalism at Stanford University. “We need an open and transparent platform where we can identify systematic bias and that will enable policy change.”

Below is a video about the Stanford study.


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