Report: blacks more likely to be stopped by Nevada police

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Nevada police stopped black motorists at a rate nearly double the state's black population, according to a yearlong racial profiling survey.

The report released Friday by the state attorney general's office shows that while blacks make up 6 percent of the driving-age population in the state, they accounted for 11 percent of all traffic stops.

Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites and Asians to be handcuffed during a stop, and blacks were searched at a rate twice that of white drivers.

But the University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor who collected the data said the report should not be taken as proof that state police improperly stop people based on their race.

UNLV criminal justice professor Richard McCorkle wrote that "there are a number of competing explanations for the racial disparities in traffic stops observed in this study."

McCorkle compared 2000 local census data to traffic stop findings, despite saying such an approach was "problematic." He said he puts more value in the information collected after a stop.

Gary Peck, ACLU executive director in Las Vegas, said the findings regarding handcuffing and searches of blacks were "a strong indicator that there may well be a systemic problem involving race-biased policing."

The survey was requested by the 2001 Legislature.

Hispanics accounted for nearly 19 percent of all stops and make up 17 percent of Nevadans 15 and older. The state driving population is 69 percent white, and whites tallied 62 percent of traffic stops.

Officers reported that more than two-thirds of tallied stops were conducted because of a moving violation, and indicated they rarely knew the race of the driver they were pulling over.

The report said black, Hispanic and Asian drivers involved in traffic stops were generally younger than whites, and were more likely to have had two or more people in their vehicle.

Results were based on 386,000 traffic stop forms completed by state and local police officers in heavily populated areas. About 13,350 forms completed by officers during the 12-month survey were disqualified for various reasons.

Data varied from agency to agency.

Stops of minorities by Nevada Highway Patrol officers were well within state demographic percentages. Whites accounted for 75 percent of NHP's traffic stops.

"I'm very proud of this," said NHP chief David Hosmer.

Blacks made up 28,300, or 15 percent, of the 182,800 stops by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Clark County's driving population is 8 percent black. Reno police reported similar discrepancies.

But Clark County Sheriff Bill Young said he refused to use results to measure the relationship between his 2,000 sworn officers and the community.

"To look at the study and say, 'Oh these police officers are racist,' is incorrect," Young said. "There are so many other contacts our officers have in the community."

Besides the NHP and Las Vegas police, the Washoe County sheriff's office and police departments in Reno, Sparks, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite were included in the study.

Officers used their own observations to identify the race of the driver. They also noted such factors as the gender and age of the driver, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, and the outcome.

A new bill making racial profiling by officers a misdemeanor crime has been filed in the Legislature by state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas. Neal had pressed for the profiling study in 2001.


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