Newsday/News 12 report: Minorities targeted more in traffic stops

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In fighting crime on Long Island, does race and ethnicity play a factor in who gets arrested?

Investigative reporter Thomas Maier examines this issue in the Newsday/News 12 two-part series "Unequal Justice."

Legal secretary Tamara Clark has never been in trouble with the law, but a few years ago, Suffolk police stopped her while driving in Brentwood.  Clark says the officer never answered her question of what was wrong, but eventually he let her go without explaining why she was stopped in the first place. 

Some believe it’s common on the streets, that if you’re black or Hispanic, officers target you for traffic stops and issue tickets for the smallest of reasons.  

MORE: Newsday Coverage - Entire Series

However, after 21 years on the force, Suffolk Detective Sgt. Mike McDowell says race is not a factor in traffic stops and should never be.

A Newsday investigation revealed minorities in Nassau and Suffolk are far more likely to be stopped and arrested than whites. 

Newsday examined nearly 100,000 arrest records from the past 10 years, most from traffic stops. In every category from resisting arrest to drug possession there appeared to be a racial pattern.

Overall, 66 percent of the felony arrests in Nassau involved minorities, though minorities are only 25 percent of the population. In Suffolk, 53 percent of felony arrests involved minorities, who make up just 17 percent of the population. 

In addition, if arrested, black and Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to get convicted and go to jail for the same offenses.

The U.S. Justice Department is currently reviewing Suffolk's record on traffic stops involving minorities. Meanwhile, Suffolk Commissioner Tim Sini vows that all complaints of bias will be taken seriously.

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