Study finds Michigan State Police disproportionately stop, search Black drivers

Department announces 5-point plan to address disparities

A team from Michigan State University conducted this study in 2020, and it concluded that there are racial disparities when it comes to troopers pulling over drivers.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – A study commissioned by Michigan State Police found racial and ethnic disparities in the outcomes of traffic stops conducted by troopers in 2020, according to a release.

The full report has been made public and MSP has pledged to take action via a 5-point plan. MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper said the department will hire an independent consulting firm to review policies and recommend systemic changes.

Gasper also committed to getting all troopers equipt with body cameras, putting cultural awareness training into a new Professional Development Bureau and launching a statewide listening and learning tour with African American leaders.

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said Gasper. “To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect. But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in Michigan State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that. Today, armed with new awareness about our traffic stop activity, we’re taking another step toward transparency for the communities we serve. We will fix this together.”

Michigan State Police said it identified the racial disparities through internal data analysis in September 2020. That’s when they commissioned a study by Michigan State University, according to the release.

The study, which can be viewed below, found that African Americans were significantly more likely to be involved in a traffic stop than would be expected based on their representation in the population. The report also found that Hispanic and Asian drivers were less likely to be stopped than would be expected based on their representation in the population.

African American drivers and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be searched or arrested after traffic stops. Asian drivers were significantly less likely to be searched or arrested compared to white drivers, but were more likely to receive a citation.

Read: Couple sues Michigan State Police for racial profiling in 2019 after being targets of 2-hour traffic stop

Here’s what’s in the department’s 5-point response plan:

  • Hiring an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies with an eye toward making recommendations for systemic changes that will address racial disparities.
  • Launching a statewide listening and engagement effort, in partnership with the Bridges to B.L.U.E. Citizen Advisory Council, in which MSP leadership will engage in open and honest conversation with leaders from communities of color, surfacing problems and finding solutions together.
  • Making more data available to MSP troopers through a dashboard that will provide real-time traffic stop data so they can learn about and adjust their actions.
  • Ramping up educational opportunities for troopers and recruits through the creation of the department’s Professional Development Bureau. This new bureau will provide training and development for enforcement members on familiar topics, as well as on new and emerging topics including mental health, wellness, de-escalation, cultural competency, decision-making, implicit bias and communication skills.
  • Issuing body worn cameras to all enforcement members who could have enforcement contact with Michigan residents and visitors.

Michigan State Police will allow for more in-depth analysis by using many of the data recommendations included in the report, according to officials. MSP intends to continue the partnership with MSU to review its 2021 traffic stop data.

The report titled, “Michigan State Police Traffic Stop External Benchmarking: A Final Report on Racial and Ethnic Disparities” was authored by Dr. Scott Wolfe, who is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

Other authors include MSU School of Criminal Justice doctoral students Travis Carter and Jedidiah Knode. It presents the results of their external benchmark analysis of Michigan State Police traffic stops conducted in 2020.

Michigan State Police vehicle. (WDIV)

View a statement from the Detroit branch of the NAACP:

“Today’s announcement by the Michigan State Police of racial and ethnic disparities in the frequency of traffic stops impacting African Americans is revealing but not surprising. Many of us in the civil rights community have been saying this for years. It is also an indication of what is happening in many local police departments across the state. Prior to COVID-19 on any Monday in court rooms across Michigan related to traffic citations and arrests, they were often filled with African Americans and people of color. They were lined up before a judge hoping to get an elimination of fines or reduction in costs with few points added to their driving record. The state police are correct in publicly announcing their internal issue that has created an external crisis for much too long. Colonel Joe Gasper is to be recognized for his openness to deal with this problem. The 5-point program outlined to address these issues, hiring an independent firm to review MSP policies, more listening and engagement with the very people who are negatively impacted by this systemic injustice, making more data available, issuing more cameras and devices to expose contact with citizens, greater training on de-escalation, cultural and racial competency, and mental health is all critical. This can lead to a necessary change of a culture rooted in militarism, old-boy-ism, nepotism and a kind of blue tribalism. The mentality of it’s “us against them” is outdated and must be changed.

We commend the department for exposing its flaws. Now let’s work together to advance its cures. The training and education is most valuable. Perhaps a relationship with Wayne County Community College District is in order. It can serve two purposes. One purpose would be a class or partnership to teach and learn cultural sensitivity, de-escalation techniques, and the true side of law enforcement. It would add a greater exposure to the police among the very people who are often impacted by the nature of their engagement with the MSP. It could help to bring a better understanding among the citizens and the department. It’s called Breaking Down Barriers. On the second part, it could serve as a base for recruitment of potential members of the state police from a much-needed community reflecting diversity and inclusion. Finally, it’s not enough to take responsibility. Responsibility with no accountability is simply an exercise in futility. We know not all officers are violating their trust. However, those found guilty of abusing the privilege to be a state trooper by un-fair stops and arrests must be disciplined. There must be certainty of holding violators accountable. Everyone must know this is not a game, this is real life. For those who believe they are not racists, while that may be true, your negative actions have a very negative racial impact. The results are still the same, racial disparities. The consequences of your lack of sensitivity to these issues is hurting a large segment of our citizenry. We can and must do better.

Today is a step in the right direction. Let us continue to move forward to fix this situation. We believe in the mission of the Michigan State Police when they say, “to provide the highest quality law enforcement and public safety services throughout Michigan.” Their Value Statement is “a proud tradition of service through excellence, integrity and courtesy.” We agree, in the words of Nike, “Just Do It.”

Click here to view traffic stop data from 2017 through 2019.

View the full report below:

View the executive summary below:

About the Authors:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.