Sheriff: Traffic stop data doesn't account for residence

Louisa County Sheriff Donald Lowe

Louisa County Sheriff Donald Lowe challenged a story in the June 3 edition of The Central Virginian that cited a racial disparity between whites and Blacks pulled over in the county for traffic stops.

The story was a report on data collected from local sheriff's offices, police departments and state police. The data show that 72 percent of drivers pulled over by the Louisa County Sheriff's Office in a six-month period were white, while 24 percent were Black. The story compares those figures to the county's white and Black populations, which are 81 and 16 percent, respectively.

Lowe pointed out that the state did not require local sheriff's offices and police departments to report the residence of people who are pulled over in traffic stops. 

"We didn't even think about it, because it wasn't required," he said. "Obviously not all of these people were from Louisa County. You have people who are just passing through, who are transient workers, and then you have the criminal element. That's going to account for a whole lot of stops."

Therefore, he said, comparing a racial group's share of traffic stops to that group's share of the county population is misleading.

"You cannot derive a stat based on resident population when it includes every person on Louisa County roads," Lowe said.

The sheriff said that it would be possible to compile data for the six-month period showing how many of the drivers stopped live in Louisa County, but it would be time-consuming. 

The sheriff's office conducted 714 traffic stops during the six-month period from July 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020. Of these, 516 stops were of white drivers and 170 involved Black drivers.

The CV's story did note the lack of information on motorists' residence when reporting on data about the Virginia State Police, since many of those traffic stops likely involved drivers passing through the county on Interstate 64.

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