APD Says Its Own Over-Reporting Led To Appearance Of 'Aggressive' Rate Of Injury In Traffic Stops

Apr 12, 2019

After a damning report that suggested Austin police officers used force in traffic stops at alarming rates, the department is defending its data-collection – sort of.

An analysis of the department's use of force last month by Scott Henson on his criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast found the department used force that caused injury 921 times in 2018 — a rate of 77 times per 10,000 traffic stops, which dwarfed other, large metropolitan departments in Texas.

Henson's analysis was written up in The Atlantic earlier this month and that larger, national audience took note.

The piece prompted an internal analysis on the part of APD, one that reached two conclusions: Henson's analysis is right, but it's right for the wrong reasons – because of how APD collected the data.

Per the state's Sandra Bland Act, law enforcement agencies in Texas are required to produce reports on arrests in traffic stops that result in use of force and on racial profiling in general.

In a memo to the Austin City Council yesterday, Manley said the numbers APD sent to the state represented all instances that resulted in injury in 2018 – not just in traffic stops, but overall.

Manley said the data-collection was muddied because officers were coding those stops that resulted in an injury in multiple ways. For example, an officer who pulled someone over would have classified that stop as a traffic stop, while an officer who was dispatched to back the initial officer up would have coded it in a separate category.

So, Manley says, APD submitted the whole dataset.

"It was an effort on the part of the team to make sure that we were not under-reporting," Manley told KUT, "and obviously the outcome of that was an extreme over-reporting of what happened here in Austin."

Manley says an internal audit found there were only 80 traffic stops that resulted in injury out of those 921 the department initially reported to the state. He adds that he'll make sure future reports contain accurate data.

DaLyah Jones contributed to this report.