Race isn't much of a factor in the odds of being the target of a traffic stop, according to a recent survey by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which shows white drivers are actually slightly more likely than minorities to say they had been pulled over.
However, minorities, males in general and young people, are more likely to be searched, arrested or subject to police force, according to the survey of 2,892 Utah residents age 16 and up.
Minorities were more than twice as likely as whites to report being contacted as suspects. And more than half of the 40 arrests cited were reported by minorities aged 16 to 34.
And, while most people say police acted appropriately during interactions, the rate was lower for minorities at 81 percent, compared to 89 percent of whites.
"Minorities are overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system," said Christine Mitchell, director of research for the state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. "That starts with arrest. This is in no way a surprising finding."
The survey was conducted last fall by a private research firm for the commission and tracked respondents' interaction with police over the past year. Its results are similar to the results of national surveys done in 2002 and 2005.
However, Utahns are more likely to say they've interacted with police and are nearly twice as likely to contact police to report a problem than the 2005 national rate.
Utah has a "high rate of citizen involvement," the survey says, which "points to rather cooperative relations between the police and public here that may surpass other states."
The survey was commissioned by the Utah Legislature last year after lawmakers considered scrapping a 2002 law requiring law officers to note the race of those they stop. That law was found ineffective. It remains, but another provision that allowed for providing race data on a driver license application has expired, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Duane Bourdeaux, a former state lawmaker who carried the racial profiling legislation, said the study "raises red flags," such as evidence that minorities are more than twice as likely to report police had used force against them.
"There have to be systematic changes," Bourdeaux said. "We can't turn our backs on these issues. We want a better quality of life for everyone."
The state's minority population has boomed since the early 1990s and is projected to hit 20 percent by the next census. In Salt Lake City, one of Utah's most diverse cities, Police Chief Chris Burbank said his office's data shows police are stepping up to the challenge to ensure they treat all people they encounter equally.
"We are not encountering, citing or arresting minorities at a higher rate than what we would anticipate based on population," said Burbank, of his office's tracking of such data for more than a decade.
Burbank said his biggest challenges, particularly dealing with immigrant and refugee communities, are language barriers and education on local ordinances.
"The state driver license handbook, the information about regulations, is not published in all these languages," he said. "We encounter a lot of people based solely on a lack of understanding of what the rules are."
To meet that challenge, Burbank said new officers in his department are taught Spanish and there is periodic diversity training, often involving people from the community."We try to get out and actively participate," he said. "I like to put my police officers on (community organization) boards, so we can get first-hand feedback."
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