An Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Traffic Stops in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, from 2010 to 2019

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The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 spurred a national reckoning around how Black people are viewed and treated by law enforcement and the criminal legal system. Some elected officials, prosecutors, and police have acknowledged their moral responsibility to pursue racial justice by examining racial disparities and inequities. This report addresses one such practice—non-traffic-safety stops. These occur when police stop and detain people for minor traffic violations that pose no identifiable risk of harm to people outside of the vehicle. Vera partnered with the Suffolk County (Massachusetts) District Attorney’s Office from July 2020 to March 2022 to study racial disparities in the criminal legal system. Vera’s analysis revealed that non-traffic-safety stops in Suffolk County are worsening racial disparities in traffic enforcement. This report shares findings from Vera’s analysis, along with proposed solutions that prohibit or deter such stops.

Key Takeaway

Nationally, non-traffic-safety stops have proven to be dangerous, a cause of racial disparities and harm, and an ineffective means of removing illegal firearms from the streets. This report finds that Black drivers are disproportionately pulled over by law enforcement in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, particularly for non-traffic-safety offenses.

Publication Highlights

  • City councils should pass local ordinances preventing police from initiating traffic stops for non-traffic-safety violations.

  • Police departments should adopt policies declining to stop drivers for non-traffic-safety violations.

  • The district attorney should introduce policies that create a presumption not to charge criminal cases that stem from non-traffic-safety stops or from consent searches when police lacked probable cause.

Key Facts