Reporting stop details

Every time an officer stops an individual, they create a police record. Departments use the data from these records to determine budgets, allocate resources, and assess the effectiveness of certain initiatives at preventing crime. When released, policing and crime data are often used by policymakers, scholars, and criminal justice professionals to gain a deeper understanding of crime and the criminal justice system’s responses to it. Comprehensive, public data sets can allow experts and activists to hold local authorities accountable by identifying racial and socioeconomic inequities within policing. In the right hands, this data can be powerful and has even helped to identify patterns of abuse by certain officers in major urban centers such as Chicago.


In the age of rapid information processing and analysis, data sharing by and between individuals, institutions, and governmental entities has become increasingly streamlined. Effective methods of pooled data sharing can allow for systemic assessment of institutions and systems by scholars and other experts. Externally, disclosing institutional data to the public can increase a sense of transparency between organizations and the general population. Internally, the collection of data can demonstrate patterns that in turn allow administrators to restructure an organization in the interest of efficiency or productivity.


Comprehensive crime information is only as powerful as the data collected. In the case of police stops, data like date, time, arresting officer, and race of the offender are fairly common. However, due to the decentralization of policing across the U.S., local law enforcement agencies have different standards for any additional data collected during a stop. To identify and limit racial bias and violence in policing, one must address the discrepancies in this data. 


Nationally, the FBI has collected data on the individuals impacted by, categories of, and amount of crime in the United States since 1930 through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) index. One component of the UCR, the Summary Reporting System, collects data on 28 offenses, and includes a breakdown of the data by age, gender, and race/ethnicity. In 2014, law enforcement agencies serving 97.7% of the U.S. population submitted data to the FBI through the Summary Reporting System. The same year, the FBI rolled out a new data collection system to transition agencies from the Summary Reporting System to a National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The NIBRS captures more granular details about criminal altercations, like the date/time of an incident, demographic information of the victim and offended, and presence of a weapon among other items. The FBI officially transitioned all agencies from the Summary Reporting System to the NIBRS on January 1, 2021. Agencies that did not meet the deadline are collaborating with the FBI to develop a transition plan and timeline for conversion. Analysts at the FBI use data from the Summary Reporting System and NIBRS to release an annual report entitled Crime in the United States. 


Neither the NIBRS nor the Summary Reporting System captures data from traffic violation citations. This omission is fairly substantial considering that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2018, 61.5 million people, or 24% of U.S. residents, had at least one contact with the police. Instead, the collection of police stop data is left to individual states and cities. For example, the Tennessee Highway Patrol (state police) collects information about stop date, stop time, stop location, driver sex, driver race, and citation issued. The city of Nashville collects the same information plus driver age, reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, whether contraband was found, whether a warning was issued, whether a frisk was performed, and whether an arrest was issued. Research from Stanford University’s Open Policing Project shows the importance of collecting as many details about a stop as possible. Statisticians and criminal justice advocates reviewed data from nearly 100 million traffic stops and affirmed that the officers in their data set did exhibit statistically significant amounts of racial bias. They were only able to definitively draw these conclusions by examining contraband outcomes in stop data—a metric that is not always collected by municipal police departments. 


Without a national or state level system to capture details like the reason for the stop, presence of contraband, and race of the officer and accused, the American picture of criminality is incomplete because it misses the role that racial bias and violence plays in the most common police interaction: a police stop.

Sources (click to expand)