Suffolk County officers more likely to target Black, Hispanic drivers, according to study

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- A new study has uncovered troubling evidence of racial bias when it comes to cops stopping drivers in Suffolk County.

Officers with the Suffolk County Police Department were twice as likely to search vehicles of Black drivers compared to white drivers and were three times more likely to use physical force on black drivers during traffic stops over white drivers, according to a new report.

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The 81-page report by the John Finn Institute for Public Safety analyzed more than 133,000 traffic stops initiated by Suffolk County police officers between March 2018 and March 2019.

The Suffolk County Police Department commissioned the report and supplied the Finn Institute with all the data.

"These disparities are unacceptable to me. They're unacceptable to the police department," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

The study also found that officers were 16% more likely to search the cars of Hispanic drivers over white drivers and that Hispanic drivers were 25% less likely to receive a warning over white drivers.

The data showed that Black drivers were 59% more likely and Hispanic drivers were 16% more likely than white drivers to be arrested during the traffic stop.

Black drivers were 84% more likely to be restrained than white drivers.

"That is concerning to us. We do not want anybody to feel that they're not being treated fairly," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said.

The study was undertaken as part of the police department's 2014 settlement with the U.S. Justice Department following the murder of immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008.

Police department and county officials spoke with officials with the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday morning to review the study's finding.

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"We will be taking a deeper dive into this data to identify where disparities are occurring, why they're occurring and implement strategies for reform," Hart said.

Hart said police department officials will be narrowing down the data to see if certain officers were more likely to engage in biased behavior during traffic stops.

Hart said the police department began implicit bias training for all officers in 2018.

To see the full report, online at the Suffolk County website.

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