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Missing data undercut bias study of State Police

Plus, RSV cases are straining Pa. children's hospitals.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
November 3, 2022
Off the record, Penn State pushback, maternal map, state control, 12-hour waits, inadequate care, and enemy territory. It's Thursday.

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This end-of-year fundraising campaign is our most important of the year. I know you're reading PA Post each morning, so can we count on your generosity this season to help us reach our goal?

— Colin Deppen, PA Post editor

It's nearly impossible to detect racial bias in State Police practices without demographic data around traffic stops, and Spotlight PA found large gaps in the collection of such data by troopers statewide. 

More than 85% of stations failed to collect the data for all traffic stops last year after an agency-wide pledge to resume the practice. 

Troopers are expected to document the time of day and location of a stop, the demographics of the driver, the outcome of the stop, and trooper-identifying information such as their unit and demographics.

But Robin Engel, a criminologist who worked with the state agency to develop a related data entry form, said troopers in some stations did not realize they had to do so for stops that resulted in only a verbal warning.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Missing traffic stop data from Pa. State Police undercut 2021 analysis for racial discrimination.

THE CONTEXT: State Police announced a renewed effort to track demographic data around traffic stops after Spotlight PA revealed the department had stopped collecting the information without explanation or notice in 2012, making it an outlier among its peers.

While auditing the data, a team of researchers led by Engel compared the number of completed forms to the number of recorded traffic stops to determine if any were missing. They found hundreds.

Fifteen stations, as well as the State Police canine unit, failed to collect data on 20% or more of all stops made last year. This includes the State Police post in Highspire, the headquarters of the department's turnpike patrol, which did not record information for any of the 205 stops it made last year.

Overall, State Police troopers failed to complete forms for more than 12% of the stops they made, a greater error rate than industry experts recommend for a sound data analysis, the researchers wrote.


"I'm looking forward to getting back to addressing the issue of gun violence in Philadelphia and most importantly, representing my constituents."

—Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson following his acquittal Wednesday on federal bribery charges; it was his second trial in the case

This is Spotlight PA's most important fundraising campaign of the year to sustain our nonpartisan, independent investigative journalism in 2023.

If we raise $125,000 by Dec. 31, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism will DOUBLE it. That means your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, making your end-of-year generosity and impact go twice as far, and for a vital cause.

Make a tax-deductible gift now »

Thanks to the 24 people who gave yesterday, including Virginia M., who said, "Pennsylvania needs you." Join Virginia and give now »
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGBTQ Rights
»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband
»  Taxes & Business Regulations
»  Election Security & Voting Rights

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election in 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» CNHI: Pa. officials say voters should hand-deliver mail ballots now
» DAILY BEAST: Mastriano-linked meme page a far-right rats' nest
» NBC10: What voters in purple Bucks Co. are saying one week out
» POLITICSPA: A look at the many races for the state House in Pa.
» WITF: Why Berks Co. sheriffs are stationed at a mail ballot drop box
Memorial Lake State Park in Fort Indiantown Gap, via Guy G. Now a request: We want to see (and share) your mail ballot selfies and other voting pics. Email your Decision 2022 photos to us here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
CONCERNED STAFF: Spotlight PA's Wyatt Massey reports more than 160 Penn State faculty have signed a letter questioning President Neeli Bendapudi's leadership following last month's Proud Boys debacle and the school's canceling of a planned Center for Racial Justice. Related: The Centre Daily Times (paywall) reports the police response around the Proud Boys event is also drawing scrutiny.

HEALTH DESERTS: Six Pennsylvania counties — Cameron, Forest, Greene, Juniata, Sullivan, and Wyoming — are maternal health deserts with no hospitals providing obstetric care, no birth centers, no OB/GYN, and no certified nurse midwives, March of Dimes reports, via Capital-Star. More than 105,000 women age 18-44 live in counties with little or no obstetric care, per Pennsylvania's top doctor.

TAKEOVER PUSH: Allentown's NAACP wants the state to take control of the city's school district, but the state says it can't, per the Morning Call (paywall). The NAACP's concern stems from the recent firing of the district's superintendent. While the state does help districts that are struggling financially, normally via a receivership, such an arrangement isn't required for leadership struggles.

RSV VOLUME: WTAE reports 12-hour waits at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh are linked to the respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. The New York Times reports children's hospitals nationwide are being overwhelmed by RSV cases. In Philadelphia, health officials are seeing an unexpected rise in respiratory illnesses in children while bracing for possible dual winter waves of flu and COVID, per Axios.

DYING IN JAIL: PennLive (paywall) counts more than 125 people, some in their 20s, others middle-aged, who died of natural causes in jails across Pennsylvania since 2018. The death of Herbert Tilghman, 46, at Dauphin County Prison is one example and occurred after he complained of severe stomach pain. PennLive reports a lack of adequate medical care is killing more people in U.S. jails than the death penalty

TURNCOAT: Inquirer scribe Kristen Graham tempted fate by donning an Astros jersey in Philadelphia, days after wearing Phillies gear in Houston. "... the most heat I took was from my family," Graham wrote. The Phillies lost last night, tying up the series. Game Five starts tonight at 8.

BRIDGE BASH: The East Market Street Bridge in York reopened this week. Dita Ziegler brought sparklers to celebrate, via YDR.

SCREAM DEAL: A two-bedroom, two-bath home in Pittsburgh's South Side Slopes comes with skyline views and a roommate named Ghostface.

FULL AUTO: A bill that would lift the safety driver requirement for autonomous vehicle testing in Pennsylvania is headed to the governor. 

SERVED COLD: Hersheypark's Wildcat replacement is called Wildcat's Revenge. ABC27 has a first look at the ride and the timeline.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Atmosphere

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Kimberly D., Don H., Becky C., Barbara F., Irene R., Susan N.-Z., Kim C., George S., Stanley J., Dianne K., Wendy A., Elaine C., Bill S., James B., Susan D., Joshua V., John B., David W., Chuck M., Samantha S., and Daniel M.
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Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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