Analyzing Stops, Citations, and Searches in Washington and Beyond

Mario L. Barnes, UC Irvine School of Law
Robert S. Chang


In its most recent review of Washington State Patrol traffic stops, a group of researchers from Washington State University concluded the following with regard to stops and citations: “when racial differences in compliance with traffic and safety laws are statistically controlled for, there is no evidence of systematic racial bias on the part of the Washington State Patrol at the level of which drivers are issued citations.” With regard to searches, the researchers concluded that, although race continues to correlate with rate of search, there is “no evidence that these disparities at the bivariate level are the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination, and thus we find no evidence of intentional “racial profiling” (evidence of purposeful or intentional discrimination is generally the first step required by the federal courts when attempting to prove racial discrimination under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution).” We review their analysis, and although we agree with them that the evidence does not support a finding of widespread intentional discrimination on the part of the Washington State Patrol, we disagree with their methodology for accounting for racial disproportionality at the citation level and we assert that there is a logical fallacy by which they discount for racial disproportionality with regard to searches.