Whitestown is one of hundreds of Indiana police agencies using an electronic ticketing system implemented in 2007.
“The officers in the state of Indiana make hundreds of traffic stops every day,” explained Whitestown Police Chief Dennis Anderson, for reasons ranging from administrative, such as a broken taillight, to criminal — a possible drunk driver.
Officers make traffic stops based on “triggers” — indicators that something could be amiss, Anderson said. “You look for things that don’t match,” he said, such as a new license plate on a vehicle that is coated with grime and in poor condition. “Those are things that tend to not go together,” he said.
“Then you have the expired paper plates that are unreadable because they’ve been in the weather for a length of time,” Anderson said.
Police are also trained to look for several clues that a driver is impaired, either by alcohol or other substances, Anderson said. Those can include weaving, crossing left of center, or randomly speeding up, then slowing down. An officer seeing those or other triggers has what is called “probable cause” to stop the driver.
Whitestown officers can check a license plate remotely, using an in-car camera. If the registration description doesn’t match the vehicle, officers will stop the driver.
Between July 5 and July 7, Whitestown officers made eight traffic stops, according to police records.
Of those, five drivers were either black or not white, based on categories selected by officers. Only one of the drivers was from Whitestown, and that person was not described as black.
Two of the three black or non-white drivers stopped on July 5 were charged with driving on a suspended license; the other was charged with never having gotten a license. All were from Indianapolis.
The other stops on July 5 were of a Whitestown resident, and a Bloomington resident, both white, who were charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Despite the statistics for that weekend, no racial profiling was involved in the arrests, Anderson said. Anderson said WPD does not profile drivers.
Determining the race of an individual driver who is passing an officer either parked at the roadside or on patrol at night is “an impossible task, in my opinion,” Anderson said.
Attempting to draw the conclusion that the department is racially profiling drivers based on actions during a three-day period in July is neither valid nor fair, he added.
“You’d have to take a look, a much larger look, at what’s out there to make a determination, to say, ‘do we see a pattern or a trend?’” Anderson said.
Indiana’s police agencies write more than one million traffic tickets annually, according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Technology and Automation Committee. Called the Electronic Citation and Warning System, the computer-based ticketing system allows officers to spend less time writing tickets and more time patrolling, while electronically distributing driver information to courts, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and other agencies.
Before eCWS, officers hand-wrote tickets — and copies were available for review, Anderson said.
“All I get is a report, once a month, that shows how many tickets the officer wrote,” Anderson said. To investigate further, he must request information from the state.
When stopping motorists, “you’re dealing with a huge cross section of the population,” he said, and for an overwhelming number of people, “the only true interaction they get with law enforcement is dealing with an officer during a traffic stop.”