City of Austin reports show racial disparities in vehicle stops by APD

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The Austin Police Headquarters on Novemeber 30, 2014. The city of Austin’s Office of Police Oversight released a report that shows people of color are pulled over at disproportionately higher rates than the rest of the city’s population. 

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

A report from the city of Austin concluded that people of color are stopped in their motor vehicles at disproportionately higher rates than their share of the Austin population. 

The report released Jan. 30 by the city’s Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation and Equity Office found 15% or 17,754 traffic stops in 2018 involved Black drivers while Black people represented 8% of people 18 or older in Austin. That same year, Hispanic and Latino drivers were stopped at a rate 2% higher than the percentage of Hispanics or Latinos 18 or older in Austin.

The three offices wanted people to acknowledge that these racial disparities are worsening compared to past years, according to the report. 

“This joint report is a further analysis of the racial profiling (data) the Austin Police Department released February, March of 2019,” said Farah Muscadin, Office of Police Oversight director. “This report looks into the data as it relates to the African American population, the Hispanic population, the Asian population to the overall percentage of population in Austin.”

The Office of Police Oversight will host a community conversation about race and policing in Austin on Feb. 22. 

“I think all of the police departments across the country are having to deal with racial profiling issues,” chief innovation officer Kerry O’Connor said. “From a community perspective, I think you’ll hear, ‘No, we are not surprised (about the racial disparities in Austin).’”

O’Connor said the fact that people are not surprised is what makes the joint report so much more important. 

“Obviously, there are several communities that have experience with this,” O’Connor said. “We are looking at the data, and the data seemed to (support) what a lot of community members and a lot of individuals in the various communities have been feeling for years.”

APD Chief Brian Manley released a response to the report last month. Manley said APD is aware of this problem and wants to get a further analysis of these numbers because there is still some information they do not have available. 

“Are these arrests based on individuals that have warrants for their arrests, or are these arrests discretionary decisions that officers are making?” Manley said. “(The community conversation could) determine who’s best suited to do this level of (further) review.”

Manley said that community members living in or visiting a crime-cluster neighborhood may have an increased likelihood of interacting with more officers, which may also speak to the disparities. 

“We don’t deploy our officers equally around the city,” Manley said. “We’re a data-driven police department, and we deploy our officers to those locations where crime has clustered or where we are having upticks in crime.”

Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition founder, said the organization has been talking about the racial disparities since they were founded five years ago. The coalition is a grassroots organization addressing criminal, economic and social justice issues at the local level, according to their website.

“(There) seems to be a lack of innovation (and) a lack of creativity within the police department to help these things go away,” Moore said. “It just goes to show you that even though the mass majority of people in Austin are white, (people of color) are negatively being stopped, sighted and arrested by police. That’s crazy to me.”