MSU Researchers Conduct Independent Study of MSP

January 20, 2022

A team of researchers from Michigan State University were commissioned by the Michigan State Police (MSP) to conduct an independent study analyzing data from traffic stops initiated by State Troopers in 2020. The goal of the study was to determine whether any disparities were present in the traffic stop data, and to search for innovative solutions to mitigate future disparities if the data suggested any were present.

Photo of Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Scott Wolfe

The research team consisted of Criminal Justice Associate Professor Dr. Scott Wolfe and two Criminal Justice Doctoral Students, Travis Carter and Jed Knode. Their findings concluded that racial and ethnic disparities were present and consistent across nearly all Michigan counties in the 2020 traffic stop data. This suggested to the research team that the disparities may be related to macro-level factors, rather than the results of individual discretion.

The independent study found “meaningful racial disparities in Michigan State Police traffic stops in many areas of the agency’s jurisdiction,” according to Dr. Scott Wolfe. The research team applauded MSP’s willingness to cooperate and be transparent throughout the data collection process as well as their receptiveness to change going forward.

Photo of Criminal Justice Doctoral Student Travis CarterBetween communication barriers, accessing data, and deciphering a new data collection process, independent studies are incredibly difficult to conduct and can only be successful if both parties work to build a solid working relationship. As Travis Carter notes, the data administrators and practitioners at MSP “know the data better than we ever will and asking them for insight is critical to the success of any research like this.”

The independent study was the first of its kind for the Michigan State Police and provides a unique opportunity for ongoing collaboration between the researchers and law enforcement agency. According to Dr. Scott Wolfe, part of the research agreement entails the researchers conducting an experimental evaluation of MSP’s internal benchmarking strategies to determine whether such intervention procedures produce the desired results.

Photo of Criminal Justice Doctoral Student Jed KnodeUltimately, the research team hopes that their findings will encourage and increase positive engagement between Michiganders and the State Police. Jed Knode notes that “people are sensitive to the way they are treated by those in power” so taking the first steps to “examine and better understand the reasons for existing disparities opens the door for meaningful future policy change.”

After the research was shared with the Michigan State Police, the law enforcement agency began development of a 5-point plan to address the disparities discovered in the study. According to a press release from the Michigan State Police, the 5-point plan includes:


  1. Hiring an independent consulting firm to review MSP policies with an eye toward making recommendations for systemic changes that will address racial disparities
  2. Launching a statewide listening and engagement effort, in partnership with the Bridges to B.L.U.E. Citizen Advisory Council, in which MSP leadership will engage in open and honest conversation with leaders from communities of color, surfacing problems and finding solutions together
  3. Making more data available to MSP troopers through a dashboard that will provide real-time traffic stop data so they can learn about and adjust their actions
  4. Ramping up educational opportunities for troopers and recruits through the creation of the department’s Professional Development Bureau. This new bureau will provide training and development for enforcement members on familiar topics, as well as on new and emerging topics including mental health, wellness, de-escalation, cultural competency, decision-making, implicit bias and communication skills.
  5. Issuing body worn cameras to all enforcement members who could have enforcement contact with Michigan residents and visitors.