Legal and Extra-Legal Variables Influencing Police Discretion During Traffic Stops

Robert Griffin, Washington State University Vancouver
Clayton Mosher, Washington State University, Vancouver
Mitch Pickerill, Washington State University Vancouver
Chad Smith, Washington State University Vancouver
Nicholas P. Lovrich, Washington State University
Michael J. Gaffney, Washington State University

There are a growing number of studies of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. However, most of these studies have adopted rather simplistic (often bivariate) statistical approaches in attempting to assess the existence and extent of racial profiling. Using data from over 1.8 million traffic stops by the Washington State Patrol, this study examines the impact of both legal (number of violations, seriousness of violations), extra-legal (race/ethnicity, gender, age of person stopped), and context variables on officers' decisions to warn or issue citations to individuals they contact. Findings reveal that, while extra-legal variables have an impact on officers' decisions to issue citations, inclusion of legal and contextual variables in multivariate variate analyses tend to reduce or eliminate the effects of the extra-legal variables.

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Updated 05/20/2006