Revelations that Washington State Patrol troopers are searching people of color at rates much higher than whites have prompted the Washington House of Representatives to propose restarting bias studies that the Patrol quietly discontinued 13 years ago.
The House’s proposed supplemental operating budget contains $50,000 to fund a collaboration between the State Patrol and Washington State University to analyze traffic stops for evidence of bias. The State Patrol contracted with Washington State University researchers to conduct similar studies in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Clayton Mosher, professor of sociology at WSU Vancouver, who was involved in the 2003, 2005 and 2007 studies that raised red flags about the disproportionate search rates of Native Americans, said researchers didn’t find a “systemic problem” within the State Patrol. The new studies need to drill down into the regions where the searches are happening, and the State Patrol needs to be willing to intervene with individual troopers who might be responsible for the disproportionate search rates, Mosher said.
“I was disappointed that they stopped [the studies], so I’m pleased to hear they’re doing it again,” Mosher said of the budget proposal. “It shows transparency.”
If you’ve never watched American football, it can look like organized chaos. But for Washington State University graduate students Jugal Marfatia and Namrata Ray, looking at data snapshots of plays allowed them to find hidden data inside the chaos. That eventually lead the duo to a trip to Indianapolis later this month for the NFL’s Scouting Combine.
Marfatia, a Ph.D. student in economics and master’s student in statistics at WSU, and Ray, a Ph.D. student in sociology, entered the NFL’s 2020 Big Data Bowl competition to answer a question: when a running back takes a handoff, how many yards should we expect him to gain?
The WSU team were named among six finalists in the collegiate event, earning a trip to the combine.
“We’ll get to meet with coaches and league officials to talk about what we found when breaking down all the data,” Marfatia said.
The NFL posted the contest on Kaggle, an online community of data scientists, and over 2,000 people competed.
While the searches occur at five times the rate for white drivers, they are less likely to turn up drugs or other contraband.
Twelve years ago, WSU academic researchers in sociology, political science, and criminal justice and criminology working with the Washington State Patrol raised a warning flag: Troopers were searching drivers from minority communities, particularly Native Americans, at a much higher rate than whites. They recommended additional study.
That was the last time the State Patrol conducted a substantive analysis of the race and ethnicity of drivers searched by troopers. Meanwhile, troopers continued to search Native Americans at a rate much higher — more than five times — than that of whites, an analysis by InvestigateWest shows. The State Patrol also continued conducting searches at an elevated rate for Blacks, Latinos and Pacific Islanders.
And yet when troopers did decide to search white motorists, they were more likely to find drugs or other contraband, records show.
While big cities across the U.S. make progress toward reducing the number of people entering local jails, smaller cities and rural counties are experiencing an alarming rise in incarcerations.
Understanding the factors behind this shift and helping rural Washington communities overcome their justice system challenges is the goal of new, grant-funded research by sociologists at Washington State University.
The Vera Institute of Justice awarded sociology professor Jennifer Schwartz and associate professor Jennifer Sherman, both at WSU Pullman, and professor Clayton Mosher at WSU Vancouver, a $200,000 grant to examine how state-level reforms, driven by the more urbanized western side of the state, interact with local dynamics in the more rural eastern side.
The researchers will pay particular attention to the region’s distinct populations, including agricultural and ranching communities, college-town communities, Native Americans and migrant farmworkers.
“Rising incarceration in rural county jails is an often-overlooked problem—it must be understood and addressed both nationally and locally,” Sherman said. “We’re thrilled to work with Vera at the forefront of this reform and look forward to continuing this much-needed work.”
Across America, working-class people are dying of despair. And we’re still blaming the wrong people.
We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.
We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, problems in African-American communities were often blamed on a lack of “personal responsibility.” William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist who earned his doctoral degree in sociology at WSU, countered that the true underlying problem was lost jobs, and he turned out to be right. When good jobs left white towns like Yamhill, Oregon, a couple of decades later because of globalization and automation, the same pathologies unfolded there.
Men in particular felt the loss not only of income but also of dignity that accompanied a good job. Lonely and troubled, they self-medicated with alcohol or drugs, and they accumulated criminal records that left them less employable and less marriageable. Family structure collapsed.
It would be easy but too simplistic to blame just automation and lost jobs: The problems are also rooted in disastrous policy choices over 50 years. The United States wrested power from labor and gave it to business, and it suppressed wages and cut taxes rather than invest in human capital, as our peer countries did. As other countries embraced universal health care, we did not; several counties in the United States have life expectancies shorter than those in Cambodia or Bangladesh.