Explanations for Traffic Citations: The Relative Influences of Demand for Services, Racial/Ethnic Composition, and Social and Economic Conditions

Robert Nash Parker, University of California - Riverside
Olivia Seheult, University of California - Riverside
Kay K. Pih, University of California - Riverside
Emily K. O'Neill, University of California - Riverside
Louis Tuthill, University of California - Riverside
Helen Ross, University of California - Riverside

What causes the police to stop an automobile to issue a citation? This question has become the focus of a number of legislative initiatives, major court cases, and public policy debate, especially where the issue of racial and ethnic profiling is alleged to be part of why officers stop the drivers they stop. In order to address these questions in a more comprehensive framework, we analyze data from the City of Riverside, CA, a community of about 250,000 people. The data consist of a random sample of 4,000 citations of the more than 20,000 issued in 1998; a full copy of the citation issued was the source from which a number of variables describing the stop were gathered. In addition, we merged these data with Census data measuring racial and ethnic composition, socioeconomic characteristics, transportation characteristics, and family structure. We also secured a measure of crime so that demand for police services was also included. Results are displayed graphically and geospatially, showing that clear patterns of racial disparity, especially when type of officer (traffic vs. general patrol) and type of citation (moving violation vs. minor infraction, e.g., tail lights, underage driving, etc.) Results also show that socioeconomic characteristics and racial/ethnic composition predict stops, not demand for police services.

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Updated 05/20/2006