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Black Drivers Stopped By APD In 2019 Were Three Times More Likely To Be Arrested Than White Drivers

While around 8% of the city's population is Black, 14% of people pulled over by Austin police in 2019 were Black. One in four Black drivers who were stopped was subsequently arrested, according to a new report from the city.

White and Asian people, meanwhile, were underrepresented in traffic stops and resulting arrests, the report found. The numbers did not change markedly from the year before.

The report from the city’s Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation and the Equity Office used data on motor vehicle stops collected by the Austin Police Department between 2015 and 2019. The city released a report with 2018 data earlier this year.

Amid conversations in June about police reform, Austin City Council members set a goal of reaching zero racial disparities in traffic stops by 2023.

“Fundamentally our goal is not only to reach zero disparity, but also to have equity in policing,” Farah Muscadin, director of Austin’s Office of Police Oversight, told council members Monday as they reviewed the data analysis at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

Muscadin promised to release annual reports on these numbers.

The Austin Police Department said the report showed “some progress.”

“Although we are in the initial stages of reviewing the results and recommendations, we are pleased that according to the data, there has been some progress made to minimize the disproportionate number of traffic stops made among these communities,” a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department wrote in an emailed statement.

APD did not respond to a request to elaborate. According to the report, Black people accounted for a smaller proportion of traffic stops than in 2018, but the difference was minimal: Black people made up 15% of motor vehicle stops in 2018 and then 14% in 2019.

“We recognize there is work that still remains and we continue to make strides towards providing equitable public safety for the entire Austin community,” the APD spokesperson wrote.

The analysis also showed that Black people were three times more likely than White people to be arrested or searched once stopped by police. A similar but lesser disparity held true for Hispanic and Latino people, who were twice as likely to be searched or arrested once stopped.

Of the nearly 20,000 motor vehicle stops involving a Black driver, roughly 12% ended in a search, while 1 in 10 ended in an arrest. Of the more than 45,000 traffic stops involving a Hispanic or Latino person, 7% resulted in an arrest.

The city also found that Black and Hispanic men were more likely to be arrested after being pulled over than women of the same race and ethnicity.

Stops of white and Asian people ended in an arrest less than 5% of the time.

Police Chief Brian Manley told council members Monday that the department needed additional data to understand if the higher number of arrests of Black and Hispanic people was because officers had discovered an active warrant after stopping them.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza told Manley he had at times been “very defensive” about the department’s racial disparity data in the past.

“I’m just curious if you now believe that there is room to improve, room to change it?” she asked.

“The defensiveness is not about the need to always defend my department because we’re not perfect and there are issues that we are addressing and have been addressing for years in our community,” Manley said, arguing that increased implicit bias training for officers could help eliminate the disparity.

Monday’s report comes just months after the Austin City Council voted to immediately cut and reinvest $20 million of the police budget, moving the money into affordable housing and public health initiatives. Last week council members voted to pay a New York City-based consultant $1.3 million to audit APD, including a review of how the city trains new officers.

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Audrey McGlinchy | KUT