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. In 2018 we wrote a letter to MSP highlighting these problems and requesting that the agency hire an expert qualified to determine whether the agency is engaged in racial profiling. When a new MSP director was appointed in 2019, we renewed our request for an independent study. In September 2020 MSP announced that it would hire an independent firm to conduct a study and make traffic stop data available online.

(ACLU Attorney Mark Fancher.) 


Defending liberty