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CBS4 Investigation Finds Racial Disparity In Speeding Tickets Issued By Troopers

By Mark Ackerman and Jennifer Brice

DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado State Patrol has instituted a mandatory two-day training in "fair and impartial policing" for all of its troopers.

The training is taking place as CSP statistics show state troopers may be ticketing Hispanic drivers at a higher rate than white drivers.

(credit: CBS)

CSP Chief Scott Hernandez says his agency examines "discretionary" speeding tickets for bias. The specific infraction CSP analyzes is speeding tickets 10-19 mph over the limit, where a trooper has to decide whether to issue a ticket or let the driver off with a warning.

"If we use speeding, the exact same speed, the trooper will make that contact and tell us how we are treating the person who is actually sitting behind the wheel," Hernandez said.

CBS4's Jennifer Brice interviews Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez (credit: CBS)

According to CSP's 2015 accreditation report, when clocked 10-19 mph over the speed limit, Hispanic motorists were issued speeding tickets 64.4 percent of the time, and received warnings 35.6 percent of the time. The frequency in which Hispanics were ticketed outpaced black drivers (59.3 percent tickets vs. 40.7 percent warnings) and white drivers (56.8 percent tickets vs. 43.2 percent warnings).

(credit: CBS)

A CBS4 data analysis found minority drivers were issued discretionary speeding tickets more frequently than white drivers each of the past five years.

(credit: CBS)

"My thoughts are that's why we continually need to train and strive to get better and more accurate," said Hernandez when asked about the disparity.

CSP is one of the first law enforcement agencies that collects racial information every time troopers come in contact with citizens.

"I'm proud that we gather this data," he said. "Although it's challenging to be asked questions about what we might find out, it makes us better."

Denver Police Chief Robert White (credit: CBS)

Getting a better picture of race is a goal shared with Denver Police Chief Robert White, who has vowed to start collecting racial data in the near future.

"The reality of it is there are parts of our community that feel like they are being unfairly treated by police officers," said White, who hopes statistics will either alleviate or validate community concerns.

"If the data shows something, we are going to correct it," said White.

White is asking experts and activists for input into the best ways to collect this information.

(credit: CBS)

White tells CBS4 he's leaning towards the most direct approach.

"It might be in our best interest to ask the person what their race is," he said.

It's a question state troopers aren't instructed to ask.

"It's just their best guess," explained Hernandez, who said that after any stop troopers are asked to mark down their perception of the race of the driver from the following choices:

- American Indian/Alaska Native
- Asian/Pacific Islander
- Black
- Hispanic
- White
- Unknown

(credit: CBS)

Because Coloradans are more diverse than the options CSP gives troopers, Hernandez urges caution before drawing any conclusions.

"I would just ask you this. How would you characterize me?" Hernandez said. "They could categorize me in two ways pretty accurately, so there's a 50/50 shot of how that might impact the data."

Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez (credit: CBS)

CSP, like many agencies across the country, has seen a rise in racial bias complaints since 2014. CSP refused to release the names of people who filed complaints or any accompanying videos of the incidents, saying the release of information would have a "chilling effect" on the complaint process.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

Jennifer Brice is a reporter with CBS4 focusing on crime and courts. Follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @CBS4Jenn.

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