Policing Project finds Nashville traffic stops ineffective for reducing crime

Our report offers steps to address racial disparities, improve community-police relations

 Access the full report. (.PDF)

Access the full report. (.PDF)

The Policing Project, in partnership with the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, traveled to Nashville to release our assessment of the use of traffic stops by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) as a crime fighting strategy in the city. Our thorough assessment of using traffic stops to address crime—the first study of its kind in the nation—was presented before the city council and the public.

[Listen: Policing Project’s Nashville traffic stop study featured on NPR Morning Edition national broadcast]

Our assessment finds there are indeed notable racial disparities in traffic stops in the city. These disparities are higher for traffic stops around non-moving violations, such as broken taillights or expired tags.

MNPD explains these racial disparities in traffic stops on the grounds that officers go where the crime is, and that in Nashville, high-crime neighborhoods tend to have larger minority populations. Our assessment bears this out. However, even controlling for crime, unexplained racial disparity in traffic stops still remains.

Our report further concludes that traffic stops are not an effective strategy for reducing crime. In particular, the MNPD’s practice of making large numbers of stops in high crime neighborhoods does not appear to have any effect on crime.

We make a number of recommendations, including that MNPD:

  • Reduce the number of traffic stops

  • Acknowledge black residents have been disproportionately affected by MNPD’s stop practices

  • Monitor racial disparities on an ongoing basis

  • Redeploy officer resources toward more effective crime-fighting tools

  • Consider adopting a Neighborhood Policing strategy

  • Post its department policies online

  • Conduct a review of certain key policies such as use of force

  • Conduct a review of training around use of force, traffic stops, and procedural justice

  • Adopt a body camera policy with attention to transparency regarding the release of footage

In addition, we suggest that Nashville engage in a public process of strategic planning around public safety, bringing together the voices of the community and MNPD officials in doing so.

View our November 19 presentation to city council.

The Policing Project was invited by the Nashville Mayor’s Office to help develop strategies to address racial disparities and improve community-police relations following two events in 2016-2017 that focused public attention on policing in Nashville—the October 2016 publication of the Gideon’s Army report, which pointed to racial disparities in MNPD’s traffic stops, and the February 2017 shooting death of Jocques Clemmons.

As part of this work, the Policing Project spoke with dozens of Nashville residents about their experiences with policing. MNPD provided the necessary data, and has from the beginning shown a strong commitment to re-evaluating its traffic stop strategies and developing alternatives that can achieve public safety with fewer social costs.

Read the full report here. For more information and interviews please contact press@policingproject.org or (212) 992-6950.