Study Shows Growing Racial Disparities in APD Traffic Stops and Arrests

Black, Hispanic drivers overrepresented in police enforcement

From 2015 to 2018, Black and Hispanic drivers in Austin were stopped and arrested by the Austin Police Department at rates greater than their share of the city’s population, while white and Asian drivers were stopped and arrested at rates beneath their share of the population.

A new report compiled by the city's Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation, and Equity Office looked at traffic stops and arrests involving the four largest racial groups in Austin – white, Hispanic/Latino, Black/African-American, and Asian. The analysis shows that Black drivers accounted for 15% of traffic stops during the four-year period, although Black people in Austin account for only 8% of the city’s voting-age population, according to 2010 census data, meaning they are overrepresented in stops by 7%.

But white drivers were underrepresented by 7%; white residents account for 54% of Austin’s voting-age population, but only 47% of traffic stops conducted by Austin police officers. Hispanic people represent 31% of the city’s voting age population and 33% of traffic stops; while Asian people represent 6% of the voting age population and 4% of traffic stops.

In a press release announcing the report, OPO Director Farah Muscadin said, ““In order to prioritize equity, transparency, and accountability, it is necessary for the City of Austin to seriously examine the disproportionality in how people of color experience policing in Austin. A review of this disproportionality and solutions to address it are important in achieving the fair administration of justice.”

The disparities in arrests stemming from traffic stops are even worse. In those interactions, the report finds, Black people are overrepresented by a staggering 17%, with Hispanic people being overrepresented by 12%. In 2018, white drivers were arrested after a traffic stop at a rate 23% lower than their share of the city’s population.

In both stops and arrests, the overrepresentation of Black and Hispanic Austinites grew more pronounced over the four years examined in the report. For Black drivers, the difference in stops vs population share started at 4% in 2015, but grew to 7% in 2018. For Hispanic drivers, there was no difference between population share and stops in 2015, but by 2018 the difference had grown to 2%.

Annually, APD releases a Racial Profiling Report, which tallies up the number of stops, searches, and other interactions, broken down by race. But those reports haven't compared those numbers to each racial group's share of the city population – context that’s key in understanding how different demographic groups are treated differently by the police.

Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore declared the report “the study to end all studies” into the racially disproportionate policing practices by APD. “We now 100% know that there is a racial bias problem in policing,” Moore said in a statement. “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.”

The report comes at a time when one investigation into allegations of racism within the department’s top ranks is concluding, to be followed closely by another, more widespread examination of the culture at APD and if and how it fosters bigotry throughout the force. For more, check online and in the Feb. 7 print issue.

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Austin Police Department, Office of Police Oversight, Equity Office, Office of Innovation, Austin Justice Coalition, Farah Muscadin, Chas Moore, racial profiling, traffic stops

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