New data shows Virginia police are more likely to stop and search Black drivers

A police car in Richmond, Va.
A police car in Richmond, Va.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 19, 2021 at 8:40 AM EDT
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Black drivers in Virginia are almost two times more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by police and three times more likely to have their vehicles searched, according to data collected under the state’s new Community Policing Act.

The records offer a first-of-its-kind look at traffic enforcement in Virginia, even as the disparities they document do not come as a surprise.

“Sadly, the data shows what Black Virginians have known all along,” said Da’Quan Marcell Love, the executive director of the Virginia State Conference NAACP. “We’ve been saying this for years. And the question now becomes, what is the General Assembly doing to do about it?”

Virginia launched the mandatory data collection in July, requiring police all over the state to begin documenting demographic data about who they stop and for what reasons. The records also detail whether a search was initiated and any enforcement action taken.

The first six months of data, published publicly earlier this month, includes details of more than 400,000 traffic stops from nearly every police and sheriff’s department in the state.

While the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services is tasked with conducting an annual analysis of the records, a preliminary review by the Virginia Mercury shows Black Virginians bore the brunt of roadside traffic enforcement, accounting for 30 percent of traffic stops despite representing just 19 percent of the state’s population.

Hispanic drivers accounted for 9 percent of stops, about equal to the proportion of the population they represent.

Non-Hispanic white drivers were less likely to be pulled over, representing 55 percent of stops and 61 percent of the population.

And Asian and Pacific Islanders were the least likely to be pulled over, accounting for just two percent of stops and nine percent of the population.

The data shows police were most likely to single out Black drivers for minor offenses like equipment violations as well as “Terry stops,” which police base on suspicion a driver is engaged in criminal activity. In both categories, Black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be pulled over.


The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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