Discrimination leads to need for traffic stop study

Urbana City Council passed a motion at its Tuesday meeting to develop a “citizen traffic stop study commission” to study disparities in traffic stops and how they relate to the race of the driver.

The motion came after city council reviewed the Illinois Department of Transportation’s traffic stop data for the state of Illinois and the city of Urbana.

The IDOT traffic stop study began in 2004. The study relies on information collected from traffic stops regardless of whether a citation was issued. Information collected includes name, address, gender, birth date, race, date, time, location, length of stop and vehicle make and year.

Urbana Human Relations Officer Todd Rent said that disparities in Urbana traffic stops have declined in recent years. In 2010, African Americans were 34.5 percent more likely to be stopped in Urbana. In 2012, African Americans were only 6.8 percent more likely to be stopped. He also said that the majority of disparities took place at night.

“In (previous studies) we did see that there were high numbers of traffic stops in areas with high areas of minorities,” he said.

Among community members who voiced their concerns at the meeting was Durl Kruse.

“It is clear, from the data, that local traffic laws have never been uniformly enforced for African American drivers. It doesn’t matter where they come from when they drive in Urbana,” Kruse said. “For the past nine years, the African American population has been policed differently than the rest of Urbana … it is a historical problem that has been around for decades.”

Urbana resident Martel Miller said it was a problem that he has faced his entire life. Growing up, he said, they referred to traffic stops as violations for driving while black. He urged the city council to take the proper steps to address the issue of racial disparity in traffic stops.

Mayor Laurel Prussing said the city would be hard-pressed to find a staff member who could conduct the study. With recent budget concerns, she said, the city doesn’t have spare personnel to offer.

Community members in attendance volunteered to spend their time on a committee or task force that would lead to a lower rate of disparity for minority drivers in Urbana.

Aaron Ammons, who also lives in Urbana, wanted to clarify that it was not a matter of embarrassing any officers or officials in the city.

“This is not … an attempt to attack the police, the city of Urbana, the mayor or anyone else,” he said. “All we want to do is to participate here in the same way we participated in other places that will be helpful for everyone in the long run.”

Eli can be reached at [email protected]