Study Spotlights CMPD Traffic Stops and Searches

CHARLOTTE, NC — Black and Hispanic drivers are much more likely to be stopped and searched in Charlotte than whites.

A 15-year study of traffic stops by a UNC professor is stirring controversy in the community, and getting a strong reaction from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

“I’m going to be quite frank with you,” says CMPD Chief Kerr Putney. “It’s an optic that I hate seeing. It’s troublesome.”

UNC political science professor Frank Baumgartner looked at the numbers between 2002-2016. They say CMPD officers are 150% more likely to search African-Americans drivers. And 78% more likely to search Latinos than whites.

“Those numbers are not surprising to the African American community,” says Charlotte community organizer Shaun Corbett. “Especially black males.”

And the racial disparities are even more concentrated among men, with black men of any age category more likely to be searched.

“Now that these numbers are out, what we need to do is we need to recognize that we’re in a position with our law enforcement to have conversations,” says Corbett. “You gotta think, we wasn’t in a position at one point in time to have these conversations.”

The Black Caucus in the North Carolina General Assembly triggered a law making the collection of traffic stop data mandatory in 1999.

Baumgartner says that data has never been used.

“There’s never been an official finding, one way or another, about whether these data, that have been so painstakingly collected by every police officer that’s ever made a traffic stop, whether they validate or disconfirm the allegation that there might be racial profiling,” says Baumgartner.

“I don’t believe the vast majority of our officers are coming to work, putting on the uniform, saying ‘I’m going to go discriminate against people who need us the most’,” says Putney.

CMPD says the numbers in this report reflect the disproportion of blacks and Latinos in high crime areas. But the data shows no relationship between an officer’s propensity to conduct searches and a success in finding contraband.

Chief Putney says his department has taken several steps to identify issues concerning arbitrary profiling.

“And if it becomes and issue around race and arbitrary profiling, you’re not going to be an officer that we’re going to keep here in this organization,” says Putney.

Dr. Baumgartner’s study shows that CMPD has the highest search rate for any North Carolina law enforcement agency by far.

You can see the complete study at:

https://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/TrafficStops/Reports2017/TrafficStopsReport-CharlottePD.pdf