A Black driver pulled over in Rutland is almost five times as likely to get searched as a white one, according to a study released this week by the University of Vermont.
That’s more than twice the national rate according to the study’s author, UVM economics professor Stephanie Seguino, who assembled the report from several years worth of traffic stop data provided by the Rutland City Police Department. Seguino conducted similar studies of data provided by Vermont State Police and several other municipalities, analyzing racial disparities in traffic stops and the outcomes of those stops.
“The disparity in terms of search rates — Rutland is the highest,” Seguino said. “It’s second in terms of arrest rate disparities.”
The report found that Black drivers in Rutland were 79% to 151% more likely to get stopped, 100% more likely to get arrested and 4.7 times more likely to get searched. All of these values compared unfavorably to those from the State Police, who were 36 times more likely to stop Black drivers, 75% more likely to arrest them and 3.91 times more likely to search them.
“I think in general, this data would be cause for concern,” Seguino said. “Although total stops in Rutland are down, racial disparities in stops have increased. Arrest rate disparities also increased over time.”
One area in which the racial gap has narrowed is the “hit rate” on searches — how often a search turns up contraband. However, that was one area where white drivers were outperforming African-Americans.
“White drivers are much more likely to be found with contraband than Black drivers,” Seguino said.
That raises the question of what Black drivers are getting arrested for, if they are getting arrested more often despite having contraband less often. Seguino did not offer a definitive answer to that, but noted how officers have discretion in matters such as whether to write a speeding ticket or arrest a driver for excessive speed.
Rutland Police Commission Chairman Sean Sargeant said he still needed to read the report and as such was not ready to comment on it as of Thursday. Chief Brian Kilcullen similarly said he had yet to “fully digest” the report, but that one point jumped out at him in an initial read as meriting immediate investigation — references to missing data.
Racial identity of drivers was missing from 2.2% of the stops from 2011 to 2019 and 3% of the stops in 2019, and the report expressed concern that the absence of the data was “not random.”
“Race of the driver was the only thing not filled in, which triggers suspicion,” Seguino said. “I don’t mean to infer there’s fraud of any kind here, but it is concerning because the public relies on the police to provide accurate data.”
Kilcullen said he had reviewed the data from 2019, and that while he could not speak to the rest of the years, he had found 35 tickets for which the racial identity of the driver had not been entered. However, he said that information had been included on the tickets themselves.
“It was in fact, collected, but it was not inputted,” he said.
Of those 35, he said, 30 of the drivers were white, two were Black, two were Asian and one was Hispanic.
Kilcullen said that the decrease in disparity in the search hit rate was at least one indicator of improvement, but that he was not ready to delve into the numbers.
“The bottom line is, there should be no difference in treatment based on race,” he said.
The study is available on Seguino’s page at the UVM website.