Bloomington Police reduce racial disparities in traffic stops; ACLU says the data is still unacceptable
Black drivers in Bloomington were four times more likely to be pulled over by police than white drivers last year, according to data compiled by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Police Chief Jamal Simington notes his department has reduced that ratio by 35% since he took office in 2021, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the current disparity remains “unhealthy” and “unacceptable.”
Karla Bailey-Smith, president of the steering committee for the central Illinois chapter of the ACLU, told the Bloomington Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB), the city’s civilian police review body, that the city has a systemic problem.
“For decades, Black and Latino members of our community have known that they are more likely to be stopped by police during routine traffic stops compared to white motorists,” Bailey-Smith told the panel on Thursday.
Siminigton rejected the characterization and said the ACLU’s data is flawed.
“We are targeting violations, period. We are not targeting people,” responded Simington, noting the department’s ratio of stops by race was 6.2-to-1 in 2020 — before he became chief.
Simington said the ACLU incorrectly claims the disparity has gotten worse. The ACLU provided a revised statement on Friday indicating the disparity has grown since 2018, when the city’s ratio was 1.6-to-1 Black to minority motorists.
Simington said the data could be skewed because officers may incorrectly count multiracial drivers and many traffic stops occur at night when an officer is less likely to be able to see the skin color of the driver. According to IDOT, the data is 95% reliable.
As for the current ratio (which is twice the state level of 1.7 stops for Black drivers to whites), Simington noted Bloomington is faring much better than other midsize central Illinois cities (see graph below).
Bailey-Smith suggested the city focus its traffic enforcement similar to what Urbana has done, by targeting high-risk areas rather than just “cruising areas that are easy to drive around." Simington said the department has shifted its focus on high-traffic areas, but rejected the comparison to Urbana by suggesting Urbana’s racial disparity is wider than Bloomington (6.1 Black motorists vs. white).
Simington added the department also uses real-time enforcement data to quickly spot trends. He said that enables supervisors to coach officers before problems develop.
“We’ll continue to do the right thing, providing the right training to our officers so they understand implicit bias and diversity training, things of that nature,” Simington said after the meeting.
Bloomington’s ratio of traffic stops for Hispanic or Latino drivers is 1.7, higher than the state average of 1.1.
Black drivers in Normal were 4.7 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers. The state average is 1.7.
Bailey-Smith conceded after Simington’s response that Bloomington has taken steps to reduce the disparities and asked the chief and PSCRB to share the data and the department’s traffic enforcement strategy in a public forum.
“I think our call to action should be to show how Bloomington is doing better than surrounding municipalities,” she said, while indicating Bloomington “still has an unhealthy disparity.”
The PSCRB plans to discuss the data at a meeting this fall.