9 Investigates

9 investigates 10 years of traffic stops, finds racial disparities

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bryson Brown's car had a broken tail light on Beatties Ford Road back in 2012 when police pulled him over.

Brown claimed he was searched, handcuffed and thrown to the ground, and he believes it happened because of the color of his skin.

"It was an angry feeling because they've got their foot on my neck and there's nothing I can do about it," Brown said. "No matter if I'm a law-abiding citizen … I'd never been arrested prior to that."

Police arrested Brown on charges of resisting and possession of a marijuana blunt. He claimed he didn't have drugs. In 2014, police dropped the charges.

Brown may not be alone in feeling profiled.

"Black drivers have about double the likelihood of being searched after a routine traffic stop than white drivers," UNC Chapel Hill political science professor Frank Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner examined 15 years of statewide traffic stop data police departments are required to collect and submit to the state. He said it shows in Charlotte that black drivers are 150 percent more likely to be searched and Hispanic drivers are 78 percent more likely to be searched than white drivers.

[READ: Baumgartner's Traffic Stop Report]

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney acknowledged the numbers are troublesome but said there's a valid reason.

"Our strategy is to proactively put our officers in places that we know have a higher likelihood for crime," Putney said. "Unfortunately, here in Charlotte, those areas have a higher proportion of black and Latinos."

Corine Mack is the president of the Charlotte NAACP and board member of Safe Coalition NC, a non-profit pushing police accountability.

Mack said CMPD is not doing enough to make sure citizens understand their rights.

When police in Fayetteville, Durham and Chapel Hill look through a driver's car during a consent search, meaning the driver gave them permission, the driver must sign a form that explains their constitutional rights.

[Durham Consent Form]

[Chapel Hill Consent Form]

CMPD officers must record consent on body cameras, but officers are not required to explain that drivers can say no to the search.

"They should understand that without fear of ramifications if they say no. That all should be on tape," Mack said.

"When we are engaging the public in a traffic stop, we are not there to be your defense attorney," Putney said. "We are there to enforce laws. Everybody has access to their own defense after an action has been taken to enforce traffic laws."

Five years later, Brown said he still gets nervous behind the wheel.

"It's scary, just driving down the street," Brown said.

"For the people of Charlotte who feel they are perceived to be suspicious, potentially targeted because of the color of their skin, what do you say to them?" Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos asked Putney.

"Come connect with us and understand the work better," Putney said. "We are intent in making sure race is not a sole factor in how we police. Even though the data looks that way on the surface, discrimination is deeper than what the data shows at first glance. Thus, the need for a much deeper assessment of why we're there."

CMPD said in 2016, seven people filed complaints, saying they were stopped because of their race or gender. In those cases, four officers were exonerated, one claim was not sustained and two others were unfounded.