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APD racial profiling statistics hold steady despite dip in traffic stops

Friday, March 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Each year, the Austin Police Department releases a report to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement detailing the number of traffic stops and searches it makes and categorizing them by race. Recently released statistics show that while the Austin Police Department has decreased its overall searches of individuals, the majority of people who were searched following a traffic stop were Hispanic.

Chief Brian Manley told the Austin Monitor that having a higher proportional rate of Hispanics and African-Americans searched than make up the population of the city of Austin is to be expected. He explained that “we try to focus our resources in those neighborhoods where crime is clustering or we have significant issues so that we can have the greatest impact on improving overall safety.” These are statistically lower socioeconomic areas, he said, where “minority populations are overrepresented.” Having a concentration of patrol officers in these neighborhoods leads to more searches being conducted on minority populations.

According to the data, 43.9 percent of the individuals who were searched were Hispanic; a slight increase from 42.4 percent in 2017. Search rates for white, black, Asian, and Middle Eastern individuals remained stable.

Alex Del Carmen, a leading state expert in racial profiling, reviewed the police department’s racial profiling data throughout the year and determined that APD was in compliance with recently expanded legal requirements.

In 2018, the number of motor vehicle stops decreased by 14 percent and the number of searches resulting from motor vehicle stops decreased by 10 percent. However, the searches as a percentage of stops ticked up slightly from 10 percent in 2017 to 10.3 percent during 2018.

When it came to actually finding contraband as a result of a search, numbers dropped from 2017 and the “hit” rate was fairly evenly distributed across the races. In 2017, the hit rate was 34 percent and in 2018 it sank to 29 percent, echoing the sharp drop in traffic stops over the course of the year.

In the memo released by APD, the reduction in motor vehicle stops was attributed to several limitations on officers’ availability to patrol, including a recall of vehicles resulting in two officers per patrol vehicle for approximately five months of the year, a vacancy rate for patrol officers averaging over 10 percent citywide, and a change in the vacation policy, which limited officers’ ability to work overtime on grant-funded traffic enforcement.

Chief Manley explained that not having a contract with the city precipitated the vacancies, which led to fewer officers on the streets coupled with over 400 police cars being sidelined due to carbon monoxide leaks. “We really had almost half the patrol vehicles out (of commission) there for a good part of the year so that also impacted our ability to conduct as much traffic enforcement as we’ve done in years prior.”

Lacking a contract with the city for the majority of 2018 made for an interesting year for the department’s statistics, especially in terms of the department’s ability to take complaints about incidences of racial profiling. During 2018, there were four formal and nine informal complaints of racial profiling. This was a significant decrease from the 10 formal and 60 informal complaints in 2017. “The largest reason behind that was that the Office of the Police Monitor was unable to accept complaints being outside of contract,” Manley said.

He explained that when the meet and confer agreement between the city of Austin and the Austin Police Association expired, the Office of the Police Monitor was unable to accept complaints through the majority of 2018. As a result, those who did want to express their grievances needed to directly contact Internal Affairs or a patrol officer’s supervisor, an avenue that is not as easily accessible.

None of the recorded complaints resulted directly in disciplinary action. Several were referred up to the supervisor of the officer accused of a violation for appropriate follow-up. According to Manley, this could include counseling, internal disciplinary action or a transfer of the complaint to the Office of the Police Monitor, which could then file a formal complaint.

Overall, Chief Manley said that the department maintains a strong stance against racial profiling. He emphasized that this year’s report will be taken into account as the department works to “enforce the law equally and fairly without discrimination toward any individual(s) or group.”

Video still via YouTube.

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