News Local/State

Racial Disparities Down In Latest Report On Urbana Police Traffic Stops

Urbana City Building

Urbana City Building Travis Stansel / Illinois Public Media

A report presented to the Urbana City Council Monday night shows African-American motorists are still more likely than white drivers to be stopped by city police. But the level of disparity is down substantially.

Urbana Police Chief Sylvia Morgan says the reduction is due to changes in procedure, including changes in what the department calls STEP enforcements. That’s a program for selecting locations where traffic stops would do the most good, or in Morgan’s words, “targeting locations in the city that are problem areas for us.”

“But we kind of did a reevaluation of that,” continued Morgan, “and identifying some changes in locations where we’ve done those STEP enforcements. So that one has had a really big impact on the disparity ratio.”

In the report presented at Monday’s Urbana City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, the disparity ratio for the 4th quarter of 2017 and 1st quarter of 2018 was 1.37, down from a five-year-average for those quarters of 1.53. If the amount of traffic stops of African-Americans was in line with their share of the driving population, the number would be 1.00.

The report drew upon data which police departments in Illinois are required to compile for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Speaking Monday, before the city council meeting, Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said she’s “very pleased” with the report, which she says reflects a “dramatic decrease” in traffic stop racial disparities.

Marlin says she expects upcoming reports of traffic stop data to show even more improvement. She notes that the latest report covers a time period spanning the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, while changes in policing procedures only began in 2018.

“So, by the time we have six full months of the new practices, I think we’ll seen an even greater decline,” said Marlin.

In a related issue, Marlin used the city council meeting to announce a new program to help motorists deal with minor vehicle equipment violations such as a broken taillight, which can trigger a stop by police.

Marlin says that under the Fix It Ticket program, police have the option of giving motorists they stop with a broken headlight, taillight or license plate light a warning ticket, and a voucher good at a local repair shop to fix or repair the light, at the city’s expense.

 “This is designed to reduce the financial burden of some of these equipment violations and typically, sometimes it’s in older cars,” said Marlin.

Marlin says the Fix It Ticket program will be launched in Urbana this summer.