State will study bias in searches by Washington state troopers

Washington state lawmakers have just passed a budget that pays for a collaboration between the Washington
State Patrol and Washington State University to find out whether state troopers exercise racial bias when they decide to search motorists. Additional funding will aim to improve the diversity of the State Patrol workforce. Critics aren’t convinced that the steps the Legislature and the State Patrol are taking will be enough to address implicit bias.

Will state study bias revelations against state troopers?

Following revelations that Washington State Patrol troopers search people of color at rates much higher than whites, the Washington House of Representatives has proposed restarting bias studies, as well as launching a campaign to recruit more people of color into the State Patrol. Such efforts would improve transparency and help build trust with more diverse communities, proponents say.

Driving while Indian? You’re more likely to be searched by the Washington State Patrol

Academic researchers found that minority groups, particularly Native Americans, were being searched at a much higher rate than whites. Analysis of open-records requests, data from millions of traffic stops, and interviews with law enforcement officials and civil rights experts has shown that this trend has continued over the past twelve years, exacerbating existing tensions between police and the communities they patrol.

Driving while Indian: How InvestigateWest conducted the analysis

In our Driving While Indian project, InvestigateWest used data obtained by Stanford University’s Open Policing Project to look at the demographics of who state troopers stop and how often they’re searched. Focusing on searches that weren’t required by statute or policy, we compared the search rates to how often contraband was found in order to determine bias. We found that Native Americans are being searched at a rate more than five times higher than the rate at which white motorists are searched.