JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An I-TEAM analysis of five years of traffic stop data from the Florida Highway Patrol shows the proportion of stops of Black drivers in northeast Florida and statewide is higher than their proportions of the overall population.
After every traffic stop, troopers with FHP complete a Traffic Stop Data Report, recording demographic information about the driver and the outcome of the stop. The data can be reviewed by a trooper’s supervisors, as well as others within the highway patrol.
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In 2020, the FHP’s Office of Inspector General conducted an audit to see if any particular race of driver was being singled out on the state’s roadways.
FHP Master Sergeant Dylan Bryan points out that troopers often can’t even see the person behind the wheel, and instead are focused on whether or not the driver is obeying traffic laws.
“We’re stopping a violation, we’re stopping the vehicle,” Bryan said. “In most cases, we don’t know, or at that point can’t see who’s driving the vehicle, when we see the violation occurred.”
The inspector general’s study looked at data from a six-month period in 2019 for a sample of troopers in each of the state’s troops, looking at the gender and race of the drivers stopped, as well as the trooper’s characteristics. The data was compared to Census data for each trooper’s territory.
In Troop G – which covers nine counties in Northeast Florida – the audit started with nine randomly selected troopers.
“The information that was provided in that audit, from the Traffic Stop Data Report, showed some variances in the traffic stops of three officers. Those three officers were then looked at a little closer,” Bryan explained.
That closer look revealed that two of the three troopers in question were in the Contraband Interdiction Unit, which deals with activities involving illegal drugs. Sgt. Bryan says that unlike troopers on the road, the interdiction unit is working off of police intelligence, and they have already identified the suspect before the traffic stop.
“And sometimes we’re requested to make traffic stops on behalf of another agency,” Bryan said. “Specific information, very detailed information, saying, ‘hey, we need that car stopped.’”
FHP’s leaders said the third trooper in question was cleared following a “random review” of 25 videos taken from the trooper’s dash camera. Troopers said their investigation revealed there wasn’t any bias in the trooper’s stops.
After reviewing the inspector general’s report, the I-TEAM took a broader view of FHP traffic stop data. We reviewed more than 3 million stops from January 2016 to April 2021, at both the statewide level, and within Troop G. The I-TEAM then compared the proportion of stops for White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian drivers to each group’s overall makeup within the population, according to 2020 Census data.
Statewide and within Northeast Florida, the proportion of stops of Black drivers was higher than their population, while the proportion of stops for the other three groups was lower than their populations.
Part of the Florida Highway Patrol’s use of the Traffic Stop Data Reports involves ensuring that the data is accurate. According to a July 2020 report from the Office of Inspector General, a member of Troop B, which is based in Lake City, was investigated for reporting false information in the reports.
The inspector general sustained allegations against the trooper, finding multiple traffic stops he failed to enter into the system and other stops where he didn’t actually give the driver a warning even though he recorded that he had. The trooper faced dismissal for the actions but resigned first.
Bryan said the findings from the inspector general’s statewide audit are a commitment to full transparency to the public regarding who is being pulled over.
“If you’re stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol, it’s not personal,” Bryan said. “This is something we’ve noticed, a hazardous violation, and that’s the only thing that we’re trying to correct.”