Black drivers more likely to be searched during St. Paul traffic stops

Fifteen years-worth of traffic stop data released by the St. Paul Police Department Wednesday shows black drivers are more likely to be searched when pulled over.

The department released data of 677,000 traffic stops since 2001 – the year the department began recording race.

Chief Todd Axtell came into the job promising more transparency and he believes releasing this data is the first step.

“Now, more importantly than any time in our nation's history with law enforcement, we have to be trusted, and releasing the data today is one more step towards that trust,” Axtell said.

What the data shows is in the first five years, white drivers were stopped far more than any other race. After five years, the data evened out.

But it flips the other way when sorted by vehicle searches. Black drivers were searched consistently more and were often twice as likely to be searched as other drivers, even as rates of traffic stops dropped for all races.

The statistics for driver frisks during traffic stops shows the same racial inconsistencies.

Axtell says racial biases and profiling in policing do exist. The department will use this data in reviews with each officer.

But, Axtell believes the data is not complete.

“One of the bits of information that we don't have is why cars are being stopped,” Axtell said.

To add more context to the data, Axtell says starting in 2017, officers will begin recording the reason for each stop.

The data also shows the highest number of 911 calls, in the orange and the red, are in communities of color. When compared to a map of numbers of traffic stops, they are fairly consistent.

Police want to know how many stops came after responding to crime reports.

But no matter what, the department will take these numbers to community groups who want to talk about them.

“[We want to] have those courageous conversations about how we do our jobs,” Axtell said. “This is a great opportunity for us.”

In addition to gathering more information to help shed light on why these disparities exist, Axtell is adding more training for his department. He has lined up police-specific bias training for the next three years.