Urbana City Council Hears Task Force Report On Traffic Stops


Urbana City Council members heard the details of a task force report on disparities in police treatment of minority drivers compared to whites during traffic stops. And several members say they want to take action.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she wants to focus “on the recommendations that would address the root causes of disparity.”

And while Ward 2 Alderman and task force member Eric Jakobsson suggested enacting the panel’s recommendations as resolutions, Ward 3 Alderman Aaron Ammons, the council’s only African-American member, says he wants to see them enacted as ordinances, which he says would be more binding.

The Urbana Traffic Stop Data Task Force, formed last year to study data compiled by the state Department of Transportation, found that Urbana Police have been stopping black drivers more often than other races in proportion to population, and that minority motorists in Urbana tend to pay higher fines and are ticketed for more violations.

Task Force member and Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery told the council that the disparity in treatment takes a financial toll on black motorists --- and an emotional one as well. 

“The fact that (the) majority of the African-American drivers that are being stopped, really has concern whether or not that they are going to make it out of this stop alive, is absolutely an area where we need to have a lot of focus,” said Avery.

The task force report acknowledges that neighborhoods in Urbana that make more calls for police service tend to have more traffic stops, and those neighborhoods also tend ten to have larger minority populations.

But Task Force Chairman Peter Resnick, speaking prior to the council meeting, said that’s no excuse for the disparity in traffic stops.

“Where you live in town should not determine how many tickets, or how many times you get pulled over,” said Resnick. “It should be based on what you do as a driver. So most of the recommendations are to address the problem of, because of where folks live, they are subject to increased policing.”

The task force’s recommendations include ongoing police training to address bias during traffic stops, adjusting fines associated with violations issued in disproportionate numbers to minorities, and a moratorium on citations for marijuana possession when discovered in traffic stops.

Another recommendation would place a moratorium on citations for marijuana possession when discovered in traffic stops.

Ald. Jakobsson, speaking prior to the meeting, said the task force saw a wide disparity in arrests for cannabis possession, with African-Americans being arrested at a higher percentage than whites.

“And this is in the face of some extensive statistics that marijuana use is no higher in African-Americans than in the rest of the American population,” said Jakobsson. “I think this is only peripherally related to traffic stops, but it was a piece of information that emerged during the traffic stop study.”

Jakobsson notes one change already in place.  Urbana Police officers are now making a note of their primary reasons for stops, whether it be for traffic, an investigation, or another reason. 

Story source: WILL