2015 Racial Profiling Numbers Point at Trend Within APD
New racial profiling data from the Austin Police Department solidifies what the Austin Police Monitor says is a five-year trend of policing people of color most often.
State law requires police departments to collect and annually report traffic citations broken down by race – plus, noting how many of those stopped for a traffic violation were then searched. In 2015, APD stopped 120,056 vehicles – down from 144,906 stops in 2014. Fifty percent of those stopped were white, while 31 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were African-American.
The number of stops that resulted in a search also dropped between 2014 and 2015. But, explains Police Monitor Margo Frasier, the likelihood of being searched after a stop if you’re non-white saw little change.
“If you’re an African-American, it’s basically one out of seven,” says Police Monitor Margo Frasier. “If you’re Latino, it’s one out of nine. And if you’re white, it’s one out of 21.”
According to the Austin Monitor's 2014 report, that probability was one out of six for African-Americans in 2014. The likelihood of being searched after being stopped was the same in 2014 for Latinos, while white suspects were likely to be searched one in 22 times that same year.
APD Chief of Staff Brian Manley says these numbers reflect a heightened police presence in Austin’s predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
“In Austin, like most major cities across this country, crime tends to concentrate in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods,” says Manley. “And also similar to across the country, those neighborhoods tend to have an overrepresentation of the minority population in them.”
But, Frasier challenged this reasoning.
“Well, what do traffic stops have to do with high crime if you’re not using it, quite frankly, as fishing expeditions?” says Frasier.
Given a city like Austin, where African-Americans make up a small percentage of the larger population–roughly 7.5 percent, according to Frasier–it’s hard to stomach APD’s logic.
“When you’re seeing that you have such a large percentage of African-Americans, that means you’re concentrating in some very small pockets of this community that have more Blacks and African-Americans in them…or you’re quite frankly seeking those people out," Frasier says. "Which it is, I don’t know at this point."
Frasier says she cannot know because the number of "hits," as APD calls them – instances when a search turned up contraband – remain fairly consistent across racial identities. Of the searches done on whites, 32 percent of searches turned up contraband, while 31 percent of searches performed on Latinos and 35 percent of those performed on African-Americans yielded contraband in 2015.
Manley says this is proof officers are not singling out someone of a certain race when making the decision to search.
While the law only requires police departments to report a racial breakdown of traffic stops in which tickets were issued or arrests were made, Frasier says seeing data on stops and searches that do not result in any action could be revelatory.
“We get complaints in our office, particularly from African-Americans, that the cops stop them, they search them and they find nothing and then they say, ‘Well, today’s your lucky day. I’m not going to give you a ticket.’ And what they say is, they didn’t have a legitimate basis to stop me in the first place,” says Frasier.
Manley says APD is working to begin reporting these numbers sometime this year. City staff and council members will discuss this new racial profiling data attoday’s meeting of the Public Safety Committee.
Below, you can read APD's full racial profiling report.
This story was produced as part of KUTs reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.