Civic Institute releases results of racial profiling study

Following months of data collection and analysis, the Mercyhurst College Civic Institute has completed a racial profiling study of the officer-initiated stops made by City of Erie Bureau of Police. In May 2001, the city contracted with the Civic Institute to assist with the design and analysis of a study of racial profiling and the police force. The city agreed to conduct the study after several months of meetings between the city, the Concerned African American Clergy and the NAACP.

On April 15, the Civic Institute reported to city and police officials that while the results of the study are not completely consistent, there is cause for concern. The results revealed statistically significant disparity by race and ethnicity. During the period studied, minority motorists and pedestrians were significantly more likely to be stopped and searched than were non-minority motorists and pedestrians. 

The analysis is based upon police officer-initiated stops of motorists and pedestrians occurring between Sept. 1, 2001, and Feb. 28, 2002. It examined stops by race and ethnicity, reasons for stops, location of stops, whether searches were conducted, reasons for searches and whether contraband was found subsequent to the search, among other variables. 

The data was collected by scannable data entry forms completed by police officers after each of their self-initiated stops. The data entry forms were scanned into an electronic file at the city’s Bureau of Police and then electronically transmitted to Mercyhurst for analysis by the Civic Institute. The final data file used for analysis included 2,164 vehicle stops and 94 pedestrian stops.

Statistical tests conducted suggest that differences of the magnitude found in the citywide stop data would occur by chance less than one time in a thousand. Awareness of the fact that crime rates vary across the city and that the distribution of crime and the resulting police deployment practices might bias the data, led the researchers to divide the city into 12 zones prior to data collection. 

Each zone is more homogeneous in regard to police deployment patterns, income, unemployment rates and other factors that are potentially relevant. If police deployment practices account for all of the disparity found at the city level, then there would be substantial declines in disparity at the level of each zone. 

The findings indicated that nine of the 12 zones showed statistically significant disparity, all in the direction of minorities being stopped more often than would be expected based upon their population in the zone. Year 2000 census data was used to create population base rates. The data also indicate that while police deployment patterns are a factor in the findings they do not account for all of the disparity.

The study also found that minorities are significantly more likely to be searched than non-minorities. It did not find a significant difference in the likelihood of finding contraband. Reasons for search did not differ significantly by minority status. 

The Civic Institute emphasized that a lack of full consistency in the pattern of results indicates a need for caution. In this study, many analyses found statistically significant evidence of racial disparity, but others did not. Similarly, the fact that the magnitude of the disparity was reduced when the analysis moved from the citywide analysis to the zone-specific analysis also sounds a note of caution. 

Nonetheless, the research team feels that the evidence is sufficient to warrant concern over the issue. After examining the data, there seems to be sufficient evidence of racial and ethnic disparity to suggest that the City of Erie and the Bureau of Police may wish to consider the following recommendations in their attempts to improve relations between the police and the minority communities.



1. Review policies and procedures concerning the appropriate basis for stops and searches to assure conformity with rules that indicate stops or searches are based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

2. Examine city procedures and ensure the existence of a citizen-friendly process of receiving, logging, maintaining, evaluating and responding to all citizen complaints of racial or ethnic bias or discrimination.

3. Examine in-service training curriculum to assure sufficient attention to issues related to inhibiting implicit bias or stereotyping.

4. Maintain efforts to institute community-oriented policing, particularly in establishing positive working relationships with leaders in the minority community, as well as the city’s neighborhoods.

5. Maintain efforts to hire additional minority officers.

6. Consider an ongoing internal data collection effort that will allow officials within the Bureau of Police to continue monitoring trends and also serve as an “early warning system” for problems associated with biased policing.

The Mercyhurst Civic Institute is committed to continuing to work with the Alliance, the NAACP, Concerned African American Clergy and the City of Erie Bureau of Police to address the concerns and recommendations expressed in this report.

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