(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency, and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper. 

MICHIGAN—Across the state, communities of color have felt that they are more likely to be pulled over by police. That feeling was given more credence last week, when the Michigan State Police (MSP) released the results of an independent investigation showing that, at least with the state police, that actually was the case in 2020. 

The study, which was conducted at the behest of the MSP and released in October 2021 using 2020 data, found racial and ethnic disparities in how often people were pulled over by state troopers in 2020. According to the study, Black Michiganders were considerably more likely to be pulled over than would be expected based on their representation in the population. 

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency, and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” said MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper. “To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect. But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in Michigan State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that. 

“Today, armed with new awareness about our traffic stop activity, we’re taking another step toward transparency for the communities we serve. We will fix this together.” 

Stemming from the results of the study, MSP officials said they would address the disparities head-on through a five-point plan, pledging action that many marginalized communities have been asking for. 

Confirming What Many ‘Have Always Known’

The MSP study released last week shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to many Michiganders; it mirrors similar studies released on a great scale

“The results of this study confirm what people of color around the country have always known,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Moore, Sr., the pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Flint and an advisor with Bridges to BLUE, a group created in 2020 with the aim of giving an outside perspective to police departments regarding their policies and practices. “Racial disparity in policing is real. I am glad to see the Michigan State Police and Col. Gasper are taking this head-on, and I will work with them to deliver the high standard of law enforcement that everyone deserves.”

The study found  that while Black drivers were more likely to be pulled over, Latino and Asian drivers were less likely to be stopped, according to each group’s respective population size in that particular community. 

It also found similar issues with the outcomes of those traffic stops, with Black and Latino drivers being more likely than white drivers to be searched or arrested following a traffic stop. Meanwhile, Asian drivers were less likely to be arrested or searched—but they were more likely to get a ticket. 

According to the study, Black drivers made up more than 22% of MSP traffic stops in 2020 despite making up less than 14% of the Michigan population. Latino drivers, meanwhile, make up just over 5% of the state population and 2.3% of traffic stops. Asian drivers were pulled over less than 1% of the time and make up more than 3% of the population. 

Other aspects of traffic stops taken into consideration by the study include when they took place. When considering that it may be more difficult to identify the race of a driver at nighttime, it’s worth noting that the majority of daylight traffic stops involved Black drivers, according to the report. 

‘Positive Change’

Gasper pointed to a five-point plan to remedy the department’s apparent racial disparity discovered during traffic stops. 

The first step in this plan? Hiring a consulting firm to take another look at MSP policing policies, with an eye toward changes that would address disparities. 

The agency also will be launching a statewide listening project in partnership with the Bridges to BLUE Citizen Advisory Council. This listening project, police said, would involve MSP leadership engaging in conversation with leaders from communities of color, hoping to surface problems and finding solutions.

Police also want to make more data available to MSP troopers regarding real-time traffic stop data. At the same time, they want to promote educational opportunities for troopers through the newly launched Professional Development Bureau, which would focus on training officers on mental health, wellness, de-escalation, implicit bias, and other skills. 

Lastly, Gasper’s plan involves issuing body cameras to all troopers who could have enforcement contact with Michiganders.

These practices show a commitment to leading by example, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. She commended the moves by MSP to acknowledge the issues and address them. 

“All law enforcement agencies should be willing to examine their practices in an effort to improve their relationship with the people they serve—effective public service cannot be reached without constructive reflection,” Nessel said. “I appreciate the brave members of our law enforcement community and know today’s announcement will lead to positive change.”