Police across Massachusetts have for years routinely labeled men with Hispanic surnames as white on traffic citations, a USA TODAY Network investigation by the Cape Cod Times, Worcester Telegram & Gazette and USA TODAY has found. The erasure skews statistics that can expose bias in the most common interaction between police and the public: traffic stops.
The news organizations’ analysis of documented traffic stops statewide between 2014 and 2020 revealed that in 28% of stops — more than 1 in 4 — involving male drivers with Hispanic last names, police identified the driver as white on their citations.
The analysis found that identifying likely Hispanic drivers as white can obscure state and local data used to monitor racial profiling.
The USA TODAY Network analysis identified thousands of drivers marked as white whose last name indicates they likely are Hispanic. If those drivers had been identified as Hispanic, 19% of those stopped would have been Hispanic men, nearly double their 11% share of the male population.
Traffic stops are a major pipeline into the Massachusetts criminal system, where the rate of incarceration of Hispanics is four times that of whites — the greatest disparity in the nation, according to the Sentencing Project.
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