RD420 - Report on Analysis of Traffic Stop Data Collected under Virginia’s Community Policing Act – July 1, 2021

Executive Summary:

The Community Policing Act of 2020 (HB 1250; “the Act") mandated that the Virginia State Police (VSP) and other state and local law-enforcement agencies, including police departments and sheriff’s offices (PDs and SOs), begin collecting and reporting data on traffic stops as of July 1, 2020. State law-enforcement agencies, PDs, and SOs are to collect data on the race, ethnicity, and other characteristics of the drivers stopped, and on other circumstances of the stop such as the reason for the stop, whether any individuals or vehicles were searched, and the outcome of the stop (arrest, citation, warning, etc.). All reporting agencies are to submit this data to the VSP, which will maintain the data in the Community Policing Database.

The Act also mandated that the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) periodically obtain data from the Community Policing Database and produce an annual report “for the purposes of analyzing the data to determine the existence and prevalence of the practice of bias-based profiling and the prevalence of complaints alleging the use of excessive force." Such reports shall be produced and published by July 1 of each year.

This is the first of these reports from DCJS. It contains a review of how the data was collected and analyzed as well as preliminary findings of data from 613,483 traffic stops reported in Virginia during the nine-month period between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. This report also presents the findings from analyses of statewide data; aggregated data from the seven VSP Divisions; and data from each individual PD and SO that reported sufficient data to the Community Policing Database.

The information presented in this report is preliminary and should be interpreted with caution. This is largely because this was the first year that the Community Policing Act was implemented. As the report notes, many PDs and SOs - especially smaller agencies with limited resources - faced challenges establishing the data collection and reporting required under the Act. The majority of law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Virginia (269, or 77%) employ 50 or fewer officers, including 125, or 35% employing 10 or fewer officers. Many of these agencies faced challenges fulfilling all requirements imposed by the state even before the significant increase in reporting responsibilities resulting from the Act. For this reason, some agencies were unable to report complete data responsive to the Community Policing Act for the entire year, and in some cases the quality of the data was limited. Additionally, a substantial number of smaller agencies reported so few traffic stops that it was not possible to interpret data related to driver race/ethnicity. (The state may wish to consider providing additional resources to law-enforcement agencies, particularly smaller agencies, to support their ability to comply with the data-related provisions of the Act, as described in Recommendation 7 of this report.)

Another important limitation to the data and findings presented in this report relates to the race/ethnicity data in the Community Policing Database itself. Because the state lacks a standardized mechanism for reporting the race or ethnicity of a given driver, law-enforcement officers must either make their own determination about a driver’s race/ethnicity (which may or may not be accurate) or ask for that information in the course of the traffic stop, which could raise constitutional concerns or escalate the perception of conflict in certain situations. Virginia does not collect and store information about a driver’s race/ethnicity, whether in driver-related databases maintained by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles or on individual driver’s licenses. Whether and to what extent the data related to driver race/ethnicity in the Community Policing Database accurately captures this information cannot be determined without further review.

The factors described above limited the ability of DCJS staff to conduct any complex statistical analysis of the data, or to draw any firm conclusions about the existence and prevalence of the practice of bias-based profiling in a given agency or jurisdiction. It is anticipated that the reporting, analysis, and interpretation of the data will improve in the future as the program matures.