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Traffic Stops, Public Safety, and Inequitable Revenue: Challenges in Policing and City Government

Data reveals systemic biases in numerous areas of policing and city government, providing opportunities for a variety of equity-focused reforms. Traffic stops are one of the most common ways citizens interact with law enforcement. Large-scale analyses of traffic stops demonstrate that law enforcement stops and search decisions are influenced by pervasive racial and ethnic biases with lower thresholds for stops and searches of Black and Hispanic drivers.

A growing body of evidence indicates that local police departments are being used to provide revenue for municipalities by imposing and collecting fees, fines, and asset forfeitures, including traffic citations. The use of fines as a mechanism of accumulating city revenue increases alongside the proportion of Black residents, and police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenue from fees solve violent and property crimes at significantly lower rates.

Overall, these disparities increase the burden on Black and Hispanic residents while failing to improve public safety. The panel discussed what the evidence reveals about these systems as well as potential policy interventions for city officials aimed at promoting more safe and equitable communities.  

See traffic stop data for your city and state and find recommended reading and additional resources below.

The AAAS EPI Center and Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization, organized this session at the 2020 International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Unite Conference.


Sharad Goel, Assistant Professor at Stanford University and Executive Director of the Stanford Computational Policy Lab

Sharad Goel’s research brings a computational perspective to a diverse range of contemporary social issues. He started and directs the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, a team of researchers, data scientists, and journalists that addresses policy problems through technical innovation. Before joining the Stanford faculty, he completed a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, and worked as a Senior Researcher at Microsoft.

Rebecca Goldstein, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law

Rebecca Goldstein’s research lies at the intersection of racial and ethnic politics, bureaucratic politics, and the politics of criminal justice policy. She uses quantitative analysis of criminal justice policy to illuminate how different racial and ethnic groups interact with the state, how and when public policy represents public preferences, and how governments distribute scarce resources. She is currently collaborating on a large randomized trial to evaluate the effects of relief from legal financial obligations for people convicted of misdemeanors in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. Her work has appeared in the American Journal of Political Science and Urban Affairs Review. Before joining Berkeley Law, Goldstein completed her Ph.D. in Harvard University’s Department of Government.

Michael Sances, Assistant Professor at Temple University

Michael Sances studies representation and accountability through the lens of US state and local government. Recent research projects include the impact of the Affordable Care Act on political behavior, the causes and consequences of cities' use of fines and fees as a revenue source, and spatial voting in mayoral elections. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, and previously served as a postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University and an Assistant Professor at the University of Memphis.

Moderated by Steve Newell, Project Director, AAAS EPI Center, and David Schleifer, Vice President, Director of Research at Public Agenda.

For additional resources on broader policing issues, see Policing, Public Safety, and Equity: Evidence and Insight for Better Policymaking.


Traffic Stops and Law Enforcement

Peirson E., Simoiu C., Overgoor J., Corbett-Davies S., Jenson D., Shoemaker A., Ramachandran V., Barghouty P., Phillips C., Shroff R., Goel S., “A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States,” Nature Human Behavior, vol. 4, pp. 736-745, 2020.

Chohlas-Wood A., Goel S., Shoemaker A., Shroff R., “An Analysis of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s Traffic Stop Practices,” Stanford Computational Policy Lab, pp. 1-10, 2018.

Farrell, W., “Predominantly black neighborhoods in D.C. bear the brunt of automated traffic enforcement,” D.C. Policy Center, 2018.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps: Automated Speed Enforcement Cameras

Fines and Fees

Sances M. W., Young You H., “Who Pays for Government? Descriptive Representation and Exploitative Revenue Sources,” The Journal of Politics, vol. 79, no. 3, 2017.

Goldstein R., Sances M. W., Young You H., “Exploitative Revenues, Law Enforcement, and the Quality of Government Service,” Urban Affairs Review, vol. 56, iss. 1, pp. 5-31, 2018.

Fines & Fees Justice Center: Fines, Fees, and Police Divestment: Statement and Policy Recommendations

Fines & Fees Justice Center: Municipal Fines and Fees: A 50-State Survey of State Laws

American Bar Association: Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees

Zickuhr K., “Applying a racial equity lens to fines and fees in the District of Columbia,” D.C. Policy Center, 2019.


Stanford University: The Stanford Open Policing Project

Fines & Fees Justice Center

Event Contact

Erin Saybolt

Program Assistant, AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues

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