When the Legislature passed a law banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving, a major concern voiced by lawmakers was that it would be enforced disproportionately against Black and Hispanic drivers. Lawmakers required the state to conduct an annual analysis of traffic stops to identify racial disparities.
The first report resulted in mixed findings – and a shifting narrative on what exactly it concludes.
The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security released the 415-page study at 4 p.m. on February 7, leaving little time for journalists on a daily deadline to comb through it. The report used a Veil of Darkness analysis, which, a press release from the agency said, “found no support for patterns of racial disparity in traffic stops.”
The analysis compared traffic stops during the day and night, assuming police can more easily identify race during daylight. Many of the first news stories on the report leaned heavily on the executive summary and press release.
“Study finds no evidence of racial disparity in traffic stops by police in Massachusetts,” the Associated Press wrote. “Massachusetts data analysis finds no support for patterns of racial disparity in traffic stops,” wrote the Fall River Reporter.
But Arnie Stewart, deputy chief counsel at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said at a public hearing Wednesday the stores were wrong. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
As advocates digested the report, many say the report’s findings are complicated and actually demonstrate significant disparities.
WCVB wrote explicitly in its headline: “More evidence of racial bias seen in Massachusetts police stops than state news release suggests.” The Boston Globe followed up its initial story – “Report finds no support for patterns of racial disparity on who is pulled over, but drivers of color were more likely to be searched, cited” – with a subsequent story headlined “For some, report on Mass. traffic stops shows stubborn racial biases persist in policing.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, the third one held by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, attorneys and advocates laid out some of the problems identified by the report, including data limitations that researchers acknowledged.
“Despite the claim stated in the report that there was no support for patterns of racial disparities in traffic stops, a shallow dive into the data highlights the inequitable impacts of these stops,” said Seleeke Flingai, senior research associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, a left-leaning criminal justice policy group.
Stewart said the data show that Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to receive a criminal citation, get arrested, and be subjected to a search after a traffic stop than White drivers. Black and Hispanic drivers were least likely to get a written warning. “This is racial disparity,” Stewart said. “Race is a factor in Massachusetts traffic stops because racism is alive and thriving.”
Stewart said one problem with the study’s methodology is caused by the legislation mandating the study, which required that only data on stops resulting in a written citation would be collected. Stewart, who is Black, cited her own experience driving with a colleague from Jamaica Plain to Brighton at midnight. Three times, she said, a police officer started following her. “My White colleague said to me, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, you’re like a police magnet,’” Stewart said. “I said to her ‘this is my life, this is not unusual.’ What was unusual was that I wasn’t stopped that night.”
Joshua Raisler Cohn, an attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, questioned whether Veil of Darkness is an accurate method of assessing racial bias, since an officer can identify a driver’s race in a well-lit area at night, and the police can run a license plate and learn a driver’s race before pulling them over.
Francis Olive, an assistant professor at Worcester State University who worked on the report, said Veil of Darkness is the “most rigorous analysis” available to examine racial disparities. But he acknowledged that there are data limitations: the police are not collecting data on verbal warnings; the data does not indicate the main reason for a stop if there are multiple infractions; it does not say whether searches found contraband; and it doesn’t distinguish between a stop made with a warrant and a discretionary stop.
Olive said if disparities are detected, researchers must dig deeper to understand why. “Disparity does not equal discrimination or profiling,” Olive said.
Ballroom violations? Theaters located near Encore Boston Harbor in Everett say the casino has been violating state law by selling seats to concerts and other events inside its ballroom.
– The claim is based on the state gaming law, which says “a gaming licensee shall only be permitted to build a live entertainment venue that has less than 1,000 seats or more than 3,500 seats.” The Picasso ballroom wasn’t built as a live entertainment venue, but it has operated as one on several occasions pre-pandemic and a new mixed martial arts fight night is scheduled for March 17. For the fight night, 1,200 seats are on sale plus two large general admission standing-room-only areas.
– Officials associated with the Chevalier Theatre in Medford are urging the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to fine Encore for the ballroom violations and retain oversight over a new entertainment complex that Wynn Resorts, the owner of Encore, wants to build across the street. Read more.
Building code criticized: Two senators say the Baker administration’s proposed opt-in specialized stretch building code to address climate change comes up short because it doesn’t allow communities to ban fossil fuel infrastructure. Read more.
DPH toothless: Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, says hospitals keep closing down units or entire facilities to cut costs even though the Department of Public Health has deemed the services “necessary for preserving access and health status in a particular service area.” Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Lawmakers visit the medical unit at MCI-Norfolk and say it reminded them of the unit featured in the book and movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They also say too many inmates are sick and elderly and only 10 percent of those who apply for medical parole are receiving it. (WBUR)
At a Springfield roundtable, Gov. Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito hear stories from domestic violence victims as they push for changes to state laws regarding bail and dangerousness hearings. (MassLive)
Overcrowded shelters ask state lawmakers to double the size of the budget for helping the homeless. (GBH)
New Bedford scraps its vaccine or testing mandate for city employees for now due to declining infection rates. (Standard-Times)
A home-rule petition to allow Boston to assess a surcharge on real estate sales over $2 million will be an early test of her sway with Beacon Hill. (Boston Globe)
Some Boston city councilors say the city’s board of health has yielded too much power to the health commission’s executive director during the emergency declaration in place since the pandemic began. (Boston Herald)
The health care official put in charge of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home after an COVID outbreak claimed the lives of dozens of residents and led to the ouster of the facility’s director says he was fired after raising concerns that safety issues there had not been addressed. (Boston Globe)
The inspector general says MassHealth paid out $6.4 million in claims to nearly 2,700 dead people over a four-year period. (Eagle-Tribune)
Mass General Brigham has embarked on a pricey advertising campaign to win support for its controversial suburban expansion proposal, and critics say it’s trying to buy its way to approval of the plans. (Boston Globe)
North Shore lawyer James O’Shea becomes the second candidate to enter the race to replace Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. (Salem News)
Worcester Democrat Robyn Kennedy, chief operating officer of the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, is the first candidate to enter the race to replace retiring Sen. Harriette Chandler. (Telegram & Gazette)
Springfield City Councilor Michael Fenton plans to run for the Governor’s Council seat being vacated by Mary Hurley. (MassLive)
Hours after he came in first in a primary race with 49 percent of the vote, Republican US Rep. Van Taylor from Plano, Texas, announced he intends to step down after the conservative publication Breitbart reported he had had an affair. (Texas Tribune)
The state saw an uptick in welfare fraud last year, including more people trying to use their benefits to buy items that are not allowed, like marijuana. (Salem News)
Ford is splitting its auto business into two parts – Ford Blue, for traditional gas and diesel-power vehicles, and Model E, for new electric vehicles. (NPR)
The state reported a rise last year in people smuggling banned and untaxed vaping products, including flavored cigarettes, into Massachusetts. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The Boston School Committee approved a $314,000 severance payout to departing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. (Boston Globe)
Mount Holyoke College President Sonya Stephens plans to step down in August. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Natural gas prices in Massachusetts are rising steadily, leaving people struggling to heat their homes. (MassLive)
Current and former New Bedford police union leaders have among the highest number of complaints against them among the 240-officer force. (New Bedford Light)