ST. ALBANS — When pulled over by troopers from the Vermont State Police St. Albans Barracks, non-white drivers are almost seven percent more likely to get a ticket than their white peers, according to a 2016 Northeastern University report that analyzes traffic stop data from the Vermont State Police between 2010 and 2015.
Black drivers were also more likely to be searched. Troopers searched just 1.1 percent of white motorists that were stopped. They searched 5.1 percent of all black drivers stopped, 4 percent of Hispanic drivers and 3.9 percent of Native American drivers pulled over.
When looking at St. Albans Barracks specifically, 1.1 percent of the white drivers pulled over were searched while 1.6 percent of non-white drivers were searched.
Troopers from the St. Albans barracks stopped 20,643 white drivers in the five-year time span and issued 33.5 percent a citation. Of the 628 non-white drivers they pulled over, troopers issued 40.3 percent of them a ticket.
These numbers are in line with what’s happening at the state level. When traffic stop data is combined from all of the state barracks, 265,899 stops were made involving white drivers with 37.2 percent issued citations. Of the 13,061 traffic stops concerning non-white drivers, 44.4 percent of them were issued a citation.
When police fill out the paperwork for issuing a warning or citation, there is a section where they record, based on their perception, whether the driver is white, African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American or Asian. A law passed three years ago required all police agencies in the state to collect traffic stop data and submit it to a central database.
The report also found racial disparities between the percentages of warnings and tickets given to white drivers versus black drivers. Troopers ticketed 37.2 percent of the white drivers they stopped and issued warnings to 60.9 percent. However, 42.8 percent of black drivers that were stopped received citations while 54.1 percent were given warnings.
Police issuing black drivers more tickets and fewer warnings was not the case for the St. Albans Police Dept. (SAPD), according to 2015’s motor vehicle and traffic stop data.
The SAPD made a total of 3,938 motor vehicle stops in the town and city. Of those, 88 percent were white drivers, 1 percent were black drivers and 11 percent of drivers were not identified by their race or were of another race.
The stops were then divided into subcategories of tickets and warnings issued. Of the 1,591 tickets issued, 93 percent, 1,473 tickets, were issued to white drivers. One percent went to black drivers, 16 of whom were ticketed and 6 percent when to unidentified drivers.
Of the 2,347 warnings issued, 89 percent went to white drivers, 1 percent went to black drivers and 10 percent were issued to driver unidentifiable by their race.
When comparing total numbers of tickets to warnings issued, 72 percent of black drivers stopped were issued a warning instead of a ticket. White drivers were issued warnings 60 percent of the time.
SAPD Chief Gary Taylor said he requires his department to attend impartial police training and to know the policy of the department concerning discrimination. “I wouldn’t do it,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t tolerate it. I’d like to think it’s true of the entire staff.”
“We ought to treat everybody the same,” he added.
Taylor said it’s about targeting criminal behavior and not individuals or groups of people. “I think it’s about respect,” he said, and “trying to educate above and beyond ignorance.”
He said he doesn’t want his department to fall prey to what’s happening in other areas of the country. “We try hard to arm the officers with a global perspective,” said Taylor. “I also like to think we are smart enough to learn from other’s examples.”
According to data supplied by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO), the sheriff’s department made a total of 2,407 stops between July 1, 2015 and June 30,2016. Of those, 1,757 were white drivers, 22 were black, eight were Asian, six were Hispanic and a little more than 600 were either labeled other, unknown or the race identification section was left blank.
Of the 1,757 white drivers pulled over, 888 were given warnings, 810 tickets, and 50 were arrested for some type of violation. Of the 22 black drivers pulled over, 13 tickets were issued and nine warnings.
FCSO ticketed 46 percent of white drivers and 59 percent of black drivers. However, because of the small sample size, just three fewer tickets to black drivers would have made the percentage of white and black drivers ticketed the same.
For the SAPD, just one fewer warning to black drivers would have made the number of black and white drivers warned the same.