AUSTIN (KXAN) — People of color are still being stopped by Austin Police Department officers at disproportionately higher rates than the percentage of their population in Austin, a new city report says.

The report released jointly by the City’s Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation and Equity Office, concluded not only that people of color are being stopped at a higher percentage, but “that racial disparity in vehicle stops exists and is worsening.”

The offices analyzed APD vehicle stop data from 2015-2018 and the race/ethnicity of the people pulled over to “better understand how various racial/ethnic groups in Austin experience motor vehicle stops,” a city press release says.

The offices looked at the data within the context of the Austin City Council’s Strategic Direction 2023 priority of Fair Administration of Justice, the report says.

What the analysis found

Black drivers are stopped at the highest rate, the report says. There were 17,754 stops involving black drivers in Austin in 2018, and that accounted for 15% of the total traffic stops. That same year, the Austin adult population (18 and older) was 8% black at 63,919.

Hispanic and Latino drivers are stopped at a 3% difference than their population. Asian drivers are stopped at 4% less than their population, and Caucasian drivers are stopped at 5% less than their population.

2018 motor vehicle stops by race/ethnicity versus 2018 City of Austin voting age population
2018 motor vehicle stops by race/ethnicity versus 2018 City of Austin voting age population. (Chart for the city report)

From 2015-2018, the differences in stops have increased for Black and Hispanic/Latino drivers while they have dropped for Caucasian drivers. Asian drivers has stayed relatively steady, according to the report.

2015-18 motor vehicle stops by race/ethnicity versus 2015-18 City of Austin voting age population. (Chart from the city report)

The report also showed where APD officers make the most arrests from vehicle stops and where they issue the most warnings and field observations. The difference is stark — they clearly make the most arrests in east Austin and issue the most warnings in west Austin.

2018 motor vehicle stops resulting in arrests, warnings and field observations. (Chart from the city report)

A Discussion with Chief Manley

On the same day the report was released, Chief Manley responded with his own memorandum to the racial profiling data.

“The Austin Police Department has consistently and unequivocally acknowledged that racial disparities are prevalent throught many aspects of our city, including police enforcement actions,” the memo reads.

In a one-on-one with KXAN, Manley acknowledged a loss of trust between the department and the community.

BACKGROUND: Anonymous complaint to City of Austin alleges APD assistant chief used ‘n-word’ to refer to African-Americans

“We recognize that we have lost trust in parts of Austin,” Chief Manley said. “We are all in agreement that we want to ensure that we are practicing the best and most equitable policing here in Austin.”

He reaffirmed his commitment to solving the problem as well as laying out steps his department has taken over the past five years, including, but not limited to:

  • Collaboration with the Center for Policing Equity to analyze the racial disparities
  • Embracing transparencies by publishing law enforcement data and body-worn camera footage, when allowed
  • Instituting implicit bias training for all sworn personnel and new recruits

However, Chief Manley wants to do more.

“You’ve got to put it into context. So I am concerned with how those numbers come out, but I think we have to do the extra work to understand what’s behind them and what’s driving them,” Chief Manley said.

Manley suggested finding a data-driven partner to dig deeper and perform further analysis on the data. He said it’s not enough to just know the disparities exist, but to understand why they exist so when remedies are applied, they can treat the underlying cause.

“I want this community to have confidence in their police department that we are here for them and that we are striving to do the best we can,” Chief Manley said.

Office of Police Oversight Director discusses the report

Austin’s Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin said, “I think that we have been aware of the disparities, but I think that’s why this report is so important. Because we needed the data to see really the extent of the disparities and what we’re facing in Austin and how we need to address it.”

The report makes several recommendations. Some suggestions include:

  • Exploring what cities like Oakland and Nashville are doing to reduce disparities
  • Better educating officers about implicit bias – biases they may not know they have

Muscadin said, “This is not going to be an easy fix. This is a collaborative effort. And this is something that we are going to have to work out year after year after year. We are looking forward to working with the police department and the community to address these disparities.”

City council members react

“The results of this report aren’t surprising, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a real problem,” said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar.

When asked if he worries the report would decrease the public’s trust and confidence in police, Casar said, “The way to address issues, the way to address trust in the community is not to hide them, but to bring them to light. That’s the only way that you fix an issue.”

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza told KXAN “I want to be optimistic about this, right. I want our community to trust us, to trust our police officers, and I hope that what comes out of this is our police department acknowledging these issues, acknowledging other ways to use our resources and then we can start rebuilding that trust.”

Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement:

“The findings of this report are on their face very disappointing – and they reflect a lived experience many in our community have been raising for some time. Our city must be equitable and ethical. This report helps frame our challenge and will help us measure the progress we must achieve from efforts both underway and needed. As a city, in so many ways, we must do better.”