The Pennsylvania State Police has initiated a wide-ranging contact data collection program designed to capture demographic and other information related to traffic stops. The data will be analyzed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati to identify potential patterns of racial/ethnic disparities in policing and, if appropriate, make recommendations on changes to PSP policy or training.
On Jan. 1, troopers statewide began documenting additional information during traffic stops, regardless of whether the encounter results in a citation or written warning. The contact data report contains more than 30 fields, including driver and passenger age, gender, race and ethnicity. Troopers also record the duration of the stop, whether a vehicle search was conducted, and the results of that search, if applicable.
“Troopers take an oath to enforce the law ‘without any consideration of class, color, creed or condition,’ and this data collection effort is one way to show the public we are upholding that oath,” said Col. Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the PSP. “Regular and ongoing analysis by a neutral third party is a critical part of this program that emphasizes our department’s commitment to transparency and continuous improvement.”
PSP previously conducted a contact data reporting program from 2002 through 2011, and researchers with the University of Cincinnati examined patterns and trends in traffic stops to better inform changes in policy and training. The new program will benefit from advances in technology over the past decade, and the ongoing national conversation about the relationship between police and the communities they serve has reinforced the importance of collection and analyzing this type of data.
“Contact data reports were previously completed and reviewed by hand, which was a cumbersome and time intensive method. For this project, we have digitally streamlined the process and integrated contact data reports with our existing mobile office environment to minimize the impact data collection has on the duration of traffic stops,” said Evanchick. “We look forward to learning from the data and analysis by the University of Cincinnati.”
The independent research team is led by Dr. Robin Engel, a professor of criminal justice and director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police/University of Cincinnati Center for Police Research and Policy. Engel is a leading academic in the field of criminal justice and criminology, with expertise in empirical assessments of police behavior, police use of force and police-minority relations.
The program runs through the end of 2021. Engel and her team will provide regular reports to the department, and a final statistical analysis in April 2022. PSP anticipates continuing the collection and independent analysis of contact data reports in subsequent years.