Disproportionate Force

Police Monitor releases 2014 review

Austinites gathered at City Hall on Feb. 11 to protest the shooting of teenager David Joseph by an APD officer. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Among the findings in the 2014 report issued Monday by the Office of the Police Mon­itor is that Austin Police Department officers are applying use of force (known more officially down at APD headquarters as "response to resistance") during arrests of blacks at a rate disproportional to other races. According to the OPM's findings, and as detailed in the 94-page summarization of arrests, formal external and internal complaints (those coming from citizens, and from officers against other officers), and other data collected by the OPM, blacks accounted for 24% of the city's 2014 arrests (11,832 in total), yet 28% of the instances when use of force was applied on arrestees – 466 times in all. Whites, by comparison, accounted for 40% of the arrests (19,531) but only 34% of the use of force incidents. Latinos comprised 34% of the arrests (16,385), and 35% of the use of force incidents.

Those numbers – available through Police Monitor Margo Fras­ier's office for the first time since the office first issued an annual report in 2002 – make evident that black Austinites are involved in reported incidences involving use of force at a rate that's roughly four times their demographic representation within the city, according to 2010 voting age population figures (which counted 46,219 African-Ameri­cans, or 7.5% of the population). Whites, conversely, were involved in use of force incidents at a rate that's 20% lower than their share of the population. Hispanics, who make up 31% of the city's population, saw a disparity of only 4%. No surprise, then, Fras­ier notes, that blacks filed 20 of the 29 allegations of improper Use of Force/Response to Resist­ance by an APD officer. (The other nine all came from whites.)

Elsewhere in the lengthy report, Frasier notes the potential racial profiling found in traffic stops, with blacks making up 11.9% of all stops but only 7.5% of the population, and the more unseemly disparity of blacks representing 24% of all stop-and-searches. Hispanics, subjects in 30% of all APD stops (nearly identical to their demographic representation), constitute 43% of searches. Whites, who constitute 54% of the voting age population, were only subject to 31% of APD's 2014 searches. Those numbers, Frasier says, are in line with reported figures in previous years: 1 in 6 for blacks, 1 in 9 for Latinos, and 1 in 22 for whites.

Those numbers don't reflect the stops – and even consensual and nonconsensual searches – that officers make that don't result in citations or arrests, leading Frasier to question just what the numbers would look like if every possible incident were still reported. APD ceased tracking stops that resulted in warnings and field observation cards, but no citation or arrest, in 2012. Among the OPM's recommendations is that, while state regulations may not require such documentation, APD make that kind of data – as well as similar data on pedestrian stops that resulted in frisks or searches – available to the OPM and public.

All told, the OPM issued five recommendations to APD. Police Chief Art Acevedo will have the opportunity to either use those recommendations in reformatting departmental policies, or disregard them altogether, if it's something the department has previously considered or just doesn't believe is a good idea. For those recommendations and much more, see the OPM's 2014 Annual Report.

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Austin Police Department, Art Acevedo, Office of the Police Monitor

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