Local News

WRAL Investigates Whether Police Are Unfairly Targeting Hispanics

Posted May 8, 2003

— A WRAL Investigation into traffic stop statistics shows a disproportionate number of Hispanic men getting arrested for drunk driving.

In 2002, Raleigh police officers stopped 495 men for suspicion of driving while impaired. Twenty-eight percent of those drivers were Hispanic. The 2000 Census figures show Hispanics make up about 7 percent of the city's total population.

"If they're that high, perhaps there is a problem," said Deputy Raleigh Police Chief Clarence Lewis.

The numbers suggest it is the same story in other Triangle communities. Hispanic men made up 34 percent of drunk driving stops in Cary and 36 percent in Garner. Hispanic men accounted for nearly 44 percent of Johnston County deputies' DWI stops. In Durham, 56 percent of men pulled over for drunk driving were Hispanic.

"These numbers of traffic stops are a disparity," said N.C. State researcher Matthew Zingraff, who has done extensive study on racial profiling statistics.

"That does concern me and I do hope to talk to some of the law enforcement agencies so that we can figure this out together," said Andrea Bazan Manson, executive director the the Latino advocacy group El Pueblo.

The alcohol policy group has released research that indicates Latino men are more likely to get behind the wheel after drinking. The study cites culture as a possible reason. Latino men come from countries with far less restrictive drunk driving laws and they are often lifestyle issues.

"Some feelings of isolation, some feelings of being away from home, some of the realities of the hard work they're doing. That all plays a part in the realities of what they may be doing," Manson said.

However, Manson said that is no excuse and her organization is trying to address the problem head-on. El Pueblo produced a public safety video directed at Latinos -- complete with warnings about drunk driving. Those tapes will be distributed beginning next week.

Hispanic advocates and researchers say allegations of racial profiling must also be considered. They point to the case of State Trooper Clinton Carroll. Although the Highway Patrol cleared Carroll of wrongdoing, a Durham judge last year ruled the trooper did target Hispanic drivers for traffic stops.

"If we have an organizational practice that because, out of habit or out of racial animous, they go to certain areas because the fishing is good, then that's inappropriate," Zingraff said.

Zingraff said the raw data does not indict police. However, he does think they need to re-evaluate the location and motivation of their patrols.

"There could be multiple fishing holes that are not being fished," he said.

Lewis warns the statistics for Hispanic DWI arrests can be misleading without comprehensive analysis. He said all Raleigh officers get racial sensitivity training. Plus, he said most patrols are based on complaints and traffic accidents, not race or ethnicity.

"Racial profiling will not be tolerated and will not be condoned in the Raleigh Police Department," he said.

A North Carolina statute requires all law enforcement agencies to report traffic stop information.

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