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May 4, 2004 - The Boston Globe (MA)

Racial Profiling Is Confirmed

Police Face New Rules On Stopping Motorists

By Bill Dedman, Globe Correspondent

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Three out of four police departments in Massachusetts have engaged in racial profiling against nonwhite drivers, state Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn is expected to report today.

To monitor police interaction with citizens, Flynn could require officers in as many as 249 departments, including state troopers, to fill out an extra form every time they pull over a motorist, even when they don't write a ticket or a warning.

Four years after the Legislature ordered a test for racial profiling in Massachusetts, police departments will receive their final grades this morning. Flynn is scheduled to release the final report of a state-sponsored study of traffic tickets by Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice and to announce what standard he will set for requiring the additional paperwork. Northeastern posted the report on its website last night.

The attorney for the state's police chiefs association predicted that many police officers will respond to Flynn's ruling by "de-policing," doing fewer traffic stops lest they give more ammunition to their critics.

"De-policing is a real possibility," said John M. Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. "When somebody is falsely accused, they're not going to continue to give you the bullets to shoot them with."

The Northeastern study confirms a Boston Globe study of the same traffic tickets last year: Minorities, especially men, are disproportionately ticketed and searched in most communities in the state. And when police officers decide whether to write a ticket or a warning, women are far more likely to get a break.

In applying the state law, police chiefs expected Flynn to be a tough grader, requiring the additional paperwork from police departments that show a disparity on any one of Northeastern's four statistical tests: ticketing resident minorities more than whites, compared with their share of the resident population, as judged by the 2000 Census; ticketing all minorities more than whites, compared with their share of the community's drivers, as estimated by Northeastern; searching minorities more often than whites; and issuing warnings to whites more often than to minorities.

Looking at Northeastern's final report on 341 communities, 92 communities received a passing grade on all tests. The largest community in the state receiving an all-clear was Agawam, a Springfield suburb of 28,000 people.

In the Boston area, the only communities given a clean bill were the northern towns of Boxford, Danvers, Essex, Hamilton, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Middleton, and Newbury; the northwest towns of Acton, Burlington, Carlisle, Concord, Groton, Harvard, North Reading, Reading, Westford, and Winchester; the south towns of Duxbury, Halifax, Hanover, Marshfield, Norwell, Pembroke, and Plympton; and the west towns of Medfield, Norfolk, and Plainville.

The police departments that failed at least one test range from the State Police and Boston Police Department to the tiny Martha's Vineyard community of Aquinnah, with 344 year-round residents, nearly half of them American Indians.

The final grades: 15 police departments failed on all four tests; 42 failed on three tests; 87 failed on two tests; and 105 failed on only one. Not every department was eligible for all four tests because sufficient numbers of searches and written warnings were required for statistical significance.

To identify communities where minorities might be targeted for traffic enforcement, the Northeastern researchers studied 1.6 million traffic citations issued between April 1, 2001, and June 30, 2003.

Police departments can appeal Flynn's decision to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, but in a letter to police chiefs his deputy told them not to get their hopes up. Reilly will set aside Flynn's ruling only if a department can prove that the decision was "unsubstantiated by substantial evidence," Stephanie S. Lovell, first assistant attorney general, wrote last month. The most contested part of Northeastern's study has been the test that the most departments failed, a comparison of the minority share of tickets with an estimated driving population of each community. Many police departments complained that the estimate didn't account for high minority populations in a neighboring community, as in Milton, which is between Boston and Randolph, both of which have higher minority populations.

So the police chiefs in eight communities did their own road surveys this spring, counting races by observing faces of drivers in high-traffic areas, and in every case found that the minority share of drivers was higher than Northeastern had estimated, thus lowering the disparity. Those communities are Andover, Dedham, Marion, Milton, Randolph, Shrewsbury, Swampscott, and Watertown. Northeastern noted those communities in its report, but still failed them on that test.

The new form that police officers have to fill out hasn't been designed, but similar forms in other states give researchers several additional pieces of information: the reason for the stop, information about an oral warning, what an officer is looking for in a search, whether any contraband was found in a search, and an exact location, which is written on traffic tickets in Massachusetts now but isn't entered into state computers.

Bill Dedman can be reached at or 617-929-2837. See for a list of communities and their grades on the report. The Globe's study of racial profiling in the state is at Northeastern's report is at

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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