Focus Carolina

Focus on Frank Baumgartner

His latest book focuses on the difference in how traffic stops involving black, white and Hispanic drivers are handled by police across the state.

Frank Baumgartner’s latest books use data to help us better understand the implications of public policy on society. For “Suspect Citizens,” he analyzed data from 20 million traffic stops in North Carolina, his research showing the high costs and low dividends of traffic stops in fighting crime. A second book, “Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Dean Penalty,” examines the death penalty in the modern era. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science in Carolina’s College of Arts & Sciences. 

“Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race” reviews every traffic stop in North Carolina since 2002 and focuses on the difference in how traffic stops involving black, white and Hispanic drivers are handled by police across the state. North Carolina was the nation’s first state to mandate collecting such data.

That was in 1999, when there was a surge of attention to this concept. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus pushed to have the State Highway Patrol and later every police agency in the state collect basic demographic data: age of
the driver, gender, race, why the car was pulled over. And then the outcome of the stop: whether the person got a warning, ticket, was arrested and whether the car was searched, what was the basis on the search and whether contraband was found. 

The book also sheds light on who gets stopped and what happens after the stop is initiated.

We can say that blacks are pulled over much more frequently than whites. On a per-mile basis, per-person basis, they’re about twice as likely to be pulled over. Once a stop is initiated, black drivers are more than twice as likely to be searched, compared to white drivers.  

 The data show that a search is more likely to occur with certain stops. For example, driving while drunk is a predictor that the officer is going to search a car, as compared to being stopped for speeding. The data also confirm that race and gender are strong determining factors for being stopped.

We take all those things into consideration: day of the week, who pulled you over, why they pulled you over, and race and gender as factors remained very, very strong. That can’t be explained away by anything that we looked at. The result is a real confirmation of the suspicion that many people in minority communities have that policing is different on their side of town and that whites and blacks do indeed have different experiences in encounters with police. 

Every day, Carolina faculty members engage in groundbreaking research, innovative teaching and public service that impacts in our community and the state, nation and the world.

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Upcoming features

Dr. Nigel Shaun Matthews
Airs week of Aug. 19

Dr. Nigel Shaun Matthews is an associate professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. A medical doctor, dentist and oral surgeon, he focuses his research and clinical work on temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery and treating both adult and young patients with arthritis and other jaw related issues. He is also a strong advocate for using tele-dentistry to expand services across our state.


Dr. Robert Bashford
Airs week of Aug. 26
As the UNC School of Medicine’s associate dean for rural initiatives, Dr. Robert Bashford focuses on recruiting, training and mentoring the next generation of physicians committed to practicing in rural North Carolina. Since 2013, Bashford has helped build the Kenan Primary Care Scholars program, training a cohort of skilled, dedicated, future physicians committed to service in our state’s rural, underserved areas, where they are needed most.