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Study: ‘Informal quota’ fuels racial disparity of Michigan State Police stops

An independent investigation found that a racial disparity in Michigan State Police traffic stops could be partly explained by troopers patrolling urban areas instead of rural ones to fill an "informal quota system." (Shutterstock photo)
  • Racial disparities in traffic stops not discriminatory, state police consultant finds
  • But authors say department had ‘informal’ quota system that encouraged officers to patrol urban areas and ‘ignore’ rural ones, leading to more stops of minorities
  • State police leaders said they have implemented changes

Minority motorists are disproportionately stopped by Michigan State Police in part because of an “informal quota system” that allows troopers to decide where to patrol, an independent study has found.

The report, which followed a 2022 study that revealed troopers were more likely to pull over Black and Hispanic motorists, concluded the disparity doesn’t stem from discriminatory policies and could be improved with better supervision.

The report found that troopers tend to patrol urban areas — where more minorities lived — to get enough stops to fill daily activity log sheets. Troopers told the report’s authors they need to make an entry on activity logs every 20 to 30 minutes and not doing so “could affect their employee evaluations."


Col. James F. Grady II is director of Michigan State Police. (Courtesy photo)

“As the urban areas are more likely to contain non-White residents, this may inadvertently lead to disparate stops,” according to the report from the Virginia-based CNA consulting firm.

“Troopers working posts with large, rural areas and interspersed urban areas may ignore the rural areas if there is not enough activity and congregate in urban areas to fill their (daily activity log sheets),” the report added.

The report was ordered by state officials after an American Civil Liberties Union analysis found Black motorists, who comprise 14 percent of the state population, comprised 17 percent to 20 percent of state police stops from 2017 to 2020.

Mark Fancher, an ACLU staff attorney, called the report “damning” because it concluded troopers make decisions on where to patrol “where they think they’re going to be able to make stops.”

“It’s gratifying to us that our suspicions have been, if not confirmed, observed by someone else,” said Fancher, who represented two Black women who sued the state police after they were searched and detained but not ticketed on suspicion of running a red light in 2019.

Mark Fancher is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

While the state police have said they have made improvements, commanders defended their expectation that troopers make patrol stops.

'Fair and equitable policing'

In the report, state police officials said there is not a quota but a “generalized expectation that troopers are remaining productive throughout the entirety of their shift.”

“As a law enforcement agency, we are committed to fair and equitable policing,”  Col. James F. Grady II, director of state police, said in a statement released Thursday. 

Grady, who is African American, said “discriminatory behavior is not an acceptable practice within this agency” and the department is addressing its training, discipline and termination practices.

The department has 1,600 troopers at 30 posts statewide, but it has struggled to diversify its ranks: About 5 percent of its force is Black, and 56 of its 61 graduates from its academy in November are white.

The report found that the Michigan State Police trooper schools in the past five years “overwhelmingly consisted of white recruits,” about 85 percent.

The department has set recruitment goals of 25 percent minority candidates and 20 percent women.

Among improvements, each post has virtual daily “roll call” meetings with troopers before they begin their shifts to talk about, among other things, where to patrol, and supervisors meet twice in person with troopers each week.

Improper training 

But the report concluded that the department “does not provide sufficient training on the use of discretion” after a motorist is stopped.

Interviews with troopers revealed they could initiate a search after smelling alcohol or marijuana or after a motorist gave inconsistent answers — which the report described as accepted behaviors of potential criminal activity. 

But the interviews also showed some troopers would consider fidgeting, lighting a cigarette, avoiding eye contact or just having both hands on the steering wheel as potential signs of a problem.

CNA recommended the department adopt standardized, accepted indicators of criminal activity. The department said it is developing proper training to match the recommendation.

Fancher said African Americans are often told by their parents to not look an officer in the eye to avoid challenging them and to keep their hands in plain sight. 

To hear that those behaviors could be interpreted as criminal shows a need for change, he said.

Troopers, he said, are “not content to be traffic cops. (They) always look to bust people on something more serious.”

The Michigan State Police is a law enforcement agency tasked with patrolling roads — but also stopping and deterring crime and since 2012 its troopers have provided extra patrols and investigative services to 11 cities in Michigan, including Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac, where nearly half of the state’s 1.3 million African Americans live.

However, the report found that the department did not know how often troopers’ suspicions of a crime prove true and contraband is found following a search; the department agreed to develop a “hit rate” metric.

A message to the Michigan State Police Troopers Association seeking comment was not returned.

CNA was paid $231,836 for the report, which followed an ACLU lawsuit involving two women who were searched and detained for 90 minutes as their car was checked by a police drug dog. The suit was settled in 2021.

A Michigan State University researcher looked at traffic stop data and did not find widespread disparities among posts, but did conclude that six of 30 state police posts had disproportionate stops among minorities.

None of those posts were in Detroit.

After that report came out in 2022, then-director Col. Joseph Gasper ordered the department to purchase body cameras for all 1,600 troopers; at the time the department had 250 of them. He also ordered the independent review released this week.

Shanon Banner, spokesperson for the department, said Friday it had purchased all of the body cameras and has implemented all of Gasper’s 2022 recommendations.

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