The Issue of Racial Profiling in Traffic Stop Citations

AuthorGeorge E. Higgins,Anthony G. Vito,Elizabeth L. Grossi
Published date01 November 2017
Date01 November 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2017, Vol. 33(4) 431 –450
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986217724537
The Issue of Racial Profiling
in Traffic Stop Citations
Anthony G. Vito1, Elizabeth L. Grossi2,
and George E. Higgins2
This study addresses racial profiling when the traffic stop outcome is a citation.
This study uses focal concerns theory as a theoretical explanation for police officer
decision-making while using propensity score matching to provide similarly situated
drivers based on race and/or gender. This study uses traffic stop data (N = 48,586)
collected by the Louisville Police Department between January 1 and December 31,
2002. The statistical results show that focal concerns theory components matter the
most for traffic stop data even though racial profiling is still an issue. Propensity score
matching is a statistical technique that provides a better way to determine whether
racial profiling was evident. Gender was not significant for female drivers. This study
advances our understanding of race and traffic stop citations using a theoretical
racial profiling, citations, focal concerns theory, propensity score matching
Racial profiling is not a new phenomenon in American policing. Recent events, how-
ever, have taken place across the United States in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and
New York City along with the social justice movement of Black Lives Matter that has
brought to light new racial issues involving the police. The issue that is present is ques-
tioning the discretionary behavior of law enforcement. These events show minorities
harbor long-held attitudes or beliefs that law enforcement has been inherently biased
against them.
1University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, USA
2University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Anthony G. Vito, Department of Criminology, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118, USA.
724537CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217724537Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeVito et al.
432 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 33(4)
Even with these recent tragic events, there have been an extensive number of stud-
ies conducted on racial profiling from various social science disciplines. Previous lit-
erature has brought up issues both with the majority of prior studies being atheoretical
or limited from a methodological standpoint (Alpert, Smith, & Dunham, 2004; Engel,
Calnon, & Bernard, 2002; Schafer, Carter, & Katz-Bannister, 2004; Walker, 2001).
This article helps to expand on this literature by using focal concerns theory as a theo-
retical explanation for police officer decision-making during traffic stops that ended in
a citation using propensity score matching as the analysis technique. This study uses
traffic stop data collected from the Louisville Police Department from January 1,
2002, through December 31, 2002.
This article contributes modestly to the literature by addressing these four issues.
To make this contribution, this article will summarize the studies conducted so far but
will explain more in-depth the limited number of studies specifically examining cita-
tions. Second, this article will explain the importance of using theory along with how
using propensity score matching as an advanced multivariate analysis would improve
on what has been conducted previously. Third, by using propensity score matching
allows the researchers to examine similarly situated drivers based on the driver’s race
and then similarly situated drivers based on the driver’s race and gender. Fourth, this
article will provide a brief summarization of what policy implications or recommenda-
tions could combat the issue or perception of racial profiling.
Using Traffic Stop Data to Examine Racial and Gender
In racial profiling research, studies focus on how the race of the driver impacts what
takes place. Previous research focused on the likelihood that police are stopping racial
minorities more often than members of other racial groups. Racial profiling thus ques-
tions the legitimacy of law enforcement. If a police department is found to be using
racial profiling, they lose trust with those certain racial groups (Barrick, 2014; Callanan
& Rosenberg, 2011; Drakulich & Crunchfield, 2013; Engel & Calnon, 2004; Feinstein,
2015; Lever, 2007; Warren, 2011; Wu, 2014; Wu, Lake, & Cao, 2015) and this results
in questioning all police–citizen interaction even when it is shown to be legitimate
(Engel & Calnon, 2004; Lever, 2007; Warren, 2011).
While several studies have been conducted to date on racial profiling, the results
have been mixed. A number of studies in both criminology and criminal justice found
that racial minorities were more likely to be stopped compared with Caucasians
(Alpert, Dunham, & Smith, 2007; Alpert, MacDonald, & Dunham, 2005; Carroll &
Gonzalez, 2014; Eger, Fortner, & Slade, 2015; Engel & Calnon, 2004; Farrell, 2015;
Hanink, 2013; Jacobs, 1979; Klahm & Tillyer, 2015; Lundman & Kaufman, 2003;
Meehan & Ponder, 2002; Novak, 2004; Novak & Chamlin, 2012; Petrocelli, Piquero,
& Smith, 2003; Regoeczi & Kent, 2014; Renauer, 2012; Rojek, Rosenfeld, & Decker,
2004; Ryan, 2016; Smith, Makarios, & Alpert, 2006; Stolzenberg, D’Alessio, & Eitle,
2004; Tillyer, 2014; Tillyer & Engel, 2013; Tillyer & Klahm, 2015; Warren,
Tomaskovic-Devey, Smith, Zingraff, & Mason, 2006; Withrow, 2004a, 2004b, 2007).

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