At least 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws related to or requiring collection of data when an individual is stopped by law enforcement. Some of these laws specifically prohibit racial profiling or require departments to adopt a policy to the same effect. Collection of demographic data can serve as a means of ensuring compliance with those provisions or informing officials on current practices so they can respond accordingly.
States have employed a number of reporting or other requirements for evaluation of the data that is collected under these laws. For example, Montana requires agencies to adopt a policy that provides for periodic reviews to “determine whether any peace officers of the law enforcement agency have a pattern of stopping members of minority groups for violations of vehicle laws in a number disproportionate to the population of minority groups residing or traveling within the jurisdiction…”
Maryland’s law requires local agencies to report their data to the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center. The center is then tasked with analyzing the annual reports from local agencies and posting the data in an online display that is filterable by jurisdiction and by each data point collected by officers.
The amount and kind of data collected also varies state by state. Some states leave the specifics to local jurisdictions or require the creation of a form based on statutory guidance, but most require the collection of demographic data including race, ethnicity, color, age, gender, minority group, or state of residence. The Missouri law for example requires collection of the following 10 data points:
“(1) The age, gender and race or minority group of the individual stopped;
(2) The reasons for the stop;
(3) Whether a search was conducted as a result of the stop;
(4) If a search was conducted, whether the individual consented to the search, the probable cause for the search, whether the person was searched, whether the person’s property was searched, and the duration of the search;
(5) Whether any contraband was discovered in the course of the search and the type of any contraband discovered;
(6) Whether any warning or citation was issued as a result of the stop;
(7) If a warning or citation was issued, the violation charged or warning provided;
(8) Whether an arrest was made as a result of either the stop or the search;
(9) If an arrest was made, the crime charged; and
(10) The location of the stop.”
Laws in the 23 states and the District of Columbia can include pedestrian or traffic stops made by law enforcement. What kind of stop triggers a data reporting requirement varies widely by state. For example, Florida’s law applies to the stops where citations are issued for violations of the state’s safety belt law.
Maryland on the other hand requires data reporting for each traffic stop made by an officer. The law specifically defines what constitutes a traffic stop as “any instance when a law enforcement officer stops the driver of a motor vehicle and detains the driver for any period of time for a violation of the Maryland Vehicle Law.”
The law also specifies that a traffic stop does not include checkpoints, roadblocks, stops related to traffic accidents or emergency situations requiring the stopping of vehicles for public safety purposes, a stop based on radar, laser or vascar technology, or a stop based on license plate technology.
Virginia’s law is broader requiring law enforcement to collect data pertaining to all investigatory motor vehicle stops, all stop-and-frisks of a person, and all other investigatory detentions that do not result in arrest or the issuance of a summons. Virginia also has statutes applicable to sheriff’s deputies and state police.
Using the Database
The database can be navigated by using state and subtopic filters. Text searching is available for statutory summaries or statutory language contained in the database. The map is also interactive and allows you to more quickly select multiple states to review―just hold down the control key to select more than one state. Use the reset button at the top left to clear all filters and start a new search.
Note that this database only contains statutory provisions that address each policy area. Case law, regulations or agency policy may further impact the current state of the law in each state. This database also does not address policies adopted by local jurisdictions or law enforcement agencies.