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Study: Racial bias could affect traffic stop searches

SEATTLE — The question of racial bias with police is a complicated and passionate one. But is there actual evidence?

Some researchers at Stanford University want to put aside emotions and feelings.

So maybe cold, dispassionate numbers can help — even if the takeaway is jarring.

“One pattern we find consistently across the country is that black and Hispanic drivers are searched more often, ticketed more often, and arrested more often than white drivers,” said Sharad Goel.

Goel and his academic partner Cheryl Phillips released their project findings Monday, showing trends about what happens with state patrol stops between whites and minorities.

The big caveat, though, is that this is the “what” of the bias question. The why and how may be tougher to prove.

“You have to be careful about interpreting these types of disparities as racial bias,” Goel said.

Their research found that Washington State Patrol stops are pretty closely aligned by county, with African Americans pulled over slightly more than whites.

“If someone`s speeding by on a highway, it`s much harder to see race or ethnicity,” Phillips said.

But the problems begin after getting pulled over. Their study shows that police somehow find more evidence for an arrest with blacks and Hispanics, even though everyone is pulled over at pretty much the same rate.

“Think about this as a double standard. That the bar that an officer might use to search somebody is lower for minorities than it is for whites,” Phillips said.

They followed the cases all the way to acquittal or conviction and learned that whites were found with higher levels of drugs and contraband but Hispanics were searched more often.

They can't necessarily point to why these trends are happening, but the hard facts show race is a part of policing.

Here are the full results of the study from Stanford.