In 2016 the Michigan State Police (MSP) disclosed that troopers are evaluated in part on how many traffic stops they make. The ACLU of Michigan wrote to MSP’s director urging that this policy be terminated because of the risk that it would lead to racial profiling. Because of the policy, troopers with an insufficient number of stops are more likely to target for groundless or arbitrary stops individuals whom they perceive to be powerless to effectively complain, which disproportionately includes people of color. Additionally, we inquired about whether troopers record the racial identities of drivers stopped, and whether there are procedures in place to monitor racial patterns of stops and to remedy practices that are racially discriminatory.
In response to the ACLU’s concerns, MSP acknowledged that it lacked reliable information about the race of the drivers it stops, and in 2017 revised its policies to require that state troopers record that information. Following the change in policy, we used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain records reflecting the racial identities of drivers stopped. These records revealed disturbing racial patterns of stops made by certain members of a unit charged with the task of drug interdiction. After efforts to persuade the MSP to engage in various reform efforts proved unsuccessful, in June 2021 we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Camara Sankofa and Shanelle Thomas, an African American couple who were racially profiled by MSP troopers, stopped without cause, made to exit their vehicle, subjected to K-9 and manual searches, and interrogated about narcotics. After 90 minutes of the unconstitutional detention, they were allowed to leave without a ticket or even a warning.
(Sankofa v. Rose; ACLU Attorneys Mark P. Fancher and Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorney Nakisha Chaney.)