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Black and Hispanic drivers are increasingly more likely to be stopped by Austin police

Friday, January 31, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

While the black population in Austin hovers around 8 percent, black people made up roughly 15 percent of drivers pulled over by police and 25 percent of people subsequently arrested in 2018 – a disparity that has worsened since 2015.

At the same time, white and Asian people were underrepresented in motor vehicle stops and resulting arrests, according to a report released by the city Thursday.

“The data really wasn’t a surprise,” said Paulette Blanc, chief of research at MEASURE, a nonprofit that uses data analysis to combat social disparities. “It was more a confirmation of something that we already knew was happening,”

The report from the city’s Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation, and Equity Office used data on motor vehicle stops collected by the Austin Police Department between 2015 and 2018.

While there was a small disparity between the number of Hispanics and Latinos pulled over and their population in Austin, the biggest discrepancy the city found was in data on police searches. Hispanics and Latinos make up 31 percent of the adult population in Austin, yet represented 44 percent of people pulled over and searched by police in 2018.

Police Monitor Farah Muscadin said her office worked closely with the police department in analyzing the data and was aware of the results.

“We need more analysis to identify the why. I think it’s clear the disparities exist,” Police Chief Brian Manley told KUT. “But that’s not good enough.”

In a response to the report, Manley said he would like to have a third party do another data analysis to better understand why these racial disparities exist. He pointed to a study done by Stanford University of Oakland police, where researchers studied body camera footage captured by 510 officers.

It found, like in Austin, black people were more likely to be searched and arrested after being stopped by police, so it’s unclear what another study would add.

The report lays out changes APD should make, including intervening when data show an officer appears to be over-policing black and Hispanic people. It also recommends all police department employees receive ongoing racial equity training.

“We now 100 percent know that there is a racial bias problem in policing and the most important next steps are laid out: acknowledge that we have a problem, identify the officers most in need of interventions, expand implicit bias training, and report to Council how much our problem is costing,” Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore said.

The report comes as the police department is grappling with accusations of racism at its highest level; the results of an investigation into a former and a current assistant chief are expected next month. In December, City Council voted for a wide-reaching investigation into alleged bigotry among police that includes an audit of officers’ social media posts.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT. Graphs courtesy of the city’s Office of Police Oversight, Equity Office and Office of Innovation.

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