In 2018, Washington voters passed an initiative that made it easier to prosecute police officers who shoot civilians, required independent investigations of police use of force and mandated a new de-escalation training regimen. At the time of its passing, the initiative was considered incredibly progressive—but activists today say existing reforms have done little to slow killings by police, and are now calling instead for foundational change, including steep cuts to police departments’ budgets and diverting savings to better social services such as crisis-intervention units.
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.
Native American motorists pulled over by the Washington State Patrol are more than five times more likely than white motorists to be searched. Rates are also elevated for black and Latino drivers. This story explores potential solutions to police bias, mostly implicit, that leads to this situation nationwide.
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.