Lester Thomas did not think about racial profiling much until a Cary police officer pulled over his teenage son and some friends.
"They were stopped and searched. The car was searched. They felt very uncomfortable and very violated," he said.
The Thomases filed a complaint and got an apology. Since then, Lester has been studying who police stop and why.
"You want to look at the proportion of those that are stopped, the racial makeup, and what did the stop result in?" Thomas said.
is now available online under a new law that requires police departments to collect information about traffic stops. WRAL looked at the numbers Raleigh police filed for January 2002, the first available month.
Fifty-three percent of the drivers Raleigh police stopped were white and 40 percent were black.
WRAL then compared the number of drivers police searched. Thirty-eight percent of them were white while 59 percent were black.
Seth Jaffe, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the numbers are valuable, especially when compared over time.
"It is probably meaningful that African-Americans are stopped for these minor offenses and searched at a rate higher than their percentage of the population. It's too early to tell if these numbers mean racial profiling is occurring," Jaffe said.
Raleigh Police Chief Jane Perlov said the statistics are not the best measure of whether profiling exists.
"I think raw data is not very meaningful. What is the standard? What are we ckecking it against? What makes a good number and what makes a bad number?" she said.
Perlov said the numbers are for academics to analyze and interpret. She said only two complaints of racial profiling were filed against the Raleigh Police Department in 2001. Perlov said one complaint could not be substantiated and the other complaint was unfounded.
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