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Report: Nashville Traffic Stops Target African-Americans, Don't Reduce Crime

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The city of Nashville, Tenn., recently commissioned a study to look at the racial dynamics at play during routine traffic stops. The report examined over 2 1/2 million police traffic stops in the city. And it found that African-Americans get targeted in these moments far more often than white people. Not only that, but these stops don't reduce crime. Shalina Chatlani of member station WPLN has more.

SHALINA CHATLANI, BYLINE: Last summer, a young black man was shot in the back while running away from a Nashville police officer who had been trying to conduct a traffic stop. It was the second such shooting in less than two years. These fatal shootings prompted a study from the New York City-based research group the Policing Project.

BARRY FRIEDMAN: For many years, the philosophy in this country to fight crime and violence was enforce, enforce, enforce. And what happened is it alienated communities.

CHATLANI: Barry Friedman, executive director of the project, was commissioned by Nashville last summer to conduct a study on the city's policing practices. Nashville Mayor David Briley said he realized the community had been losing confidence in the police department. The city's traffic rate is four times higher than other comparable cities, like Denver and New Orleans. And a local study from two years ago found black residents are stopped more frequently.

DAVID BRILEY: It is, in part, a response to community concerns about policing. And certainly, we always want to move as fast as we possibly can, but what we're doing is using data.

CHATLANI: Researchers found traffic stops do not reduce crime and rarely uncover serious violations. And the report found low-income and black residents are stopped more often. Friedman says that's because Nashville police target areas deemed as high-crime and where underserved communities tend to live.

FRIEDMAN: Nashville could actually be a model for the country in a very important way, which is that there's concern throughout the country about traffic stops and pedestrian stops. And there's not been a close look at the social costs of these kind of stops. What is the impact on policed communities?

CHATLANI: Jackie Sims, a police reform activist in Nashville, says the community is going to be hesitant about officers becoming more active in neighborhoods.

JACKIE SIMS: We're going to have to work towards building trust. That's not something that's going to happen, you know, in the very near future.

CHATLANI: Now the city's leadership is hoping its new Community Oversight Board will tackle neighborhood crime. Sims says these conversations between residents, the police and the city should've started years ago.

For NPR News, I'm Shalina Chatlani in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.