Cops and Stops: Race, Place and Social Control in North Carolina

Kirk Miller, NC State University & No. IL University
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, North Carolina State University
Matthew T. Zingraff, North Carolina State University

Few issues have crystalized contemporary American race relations more than the phenomenon known as "Driving While Black". Media accounts, anecdotal evidence and public opinion all suggest that racial profiling is a real problem. However, whether race-based stopping practices by police are a systematic characteristic of state and local police departments remains unclear. This paper seeks to answer the question of whether race increases the likelihood of being stopped in North Carolina using a combination of survey data and census data collected in 2000. Through self-report data about driving habits and stop experiences, we are better able to sort out the relative importance of legal versus extra-legal considerations in stops. The analysis is theoretically grounded in the racial competition/threat tradition. Policing, like all forms of social control, doesn't occur in a social vacuum. There is reason to suspect that variation in organizational and social climate factors are an important part of any race-based stopping patterns. Therefore, the analysis distinguishes between stops by state highway patrol and local police departments. We model context effects of local structural factors through multi-level analysis using the same survey data combined with county-level census data. The basic idea is that "Driving While Black" is a different phenomena depending upon where one drives (for example, whether you reside and typically drive in an area with a high concentration of African American residents or not)..

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Updated 05/20/2006