AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new joint report from three City of Austin departments say people of color in the city are pulled over by Austin Police Department officers at disproportionately higher rates than their percentage of the population, with Black people being the most overrepresented in traffic stops.
The report released Monday by the Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation and Equity Office was compiled using 2019 APD motor vehicle stop data as well as the race or ethnicity of those involved in the stops.
The report says the 2019 data shows Black people make up around 8% of Austin’s voting age population but have experienced 14% of traffic stops, with 25% of stops resulting in searches and 25% of stops leading to arrests.
The report says the data also showed a difference in how different parts of the city were treated by APD during traffic stops. Warnings and field observations were found more often on the west side of the city, while arrests were concentrated on the east side of the city.
Black people were the most overrepresented across all categories except citations, where the Hispanic and Latino population were the more overrepresented, according to the analysis. On the flip side, the report says white people were the most underrepresented group overall, and Asians were “slightly” underrepresented.
Additionally, Black people were also three times more likely to be searched than white people once pulled over, according to the report.
The data does show from 2018 to 2019, there was a slight decline in the disparity of Black drivers who were pulled over, but they were still being pulled over twice as much as white people.
Recommendations for change
The report also provides some recommendations to help ensure all Austinites are treated fairly by law enforcement. Those recommendations include having APD officers partner with the community to make a plan to eliminate racial disparity in policing and commit to the goal of making zero racial disparities a reality.
The joint analysis is an important contribution to Austin City Council’s Strategic Direction 2023, the City of Austin departments said. The direction focuses on the Fair Administration of Justice and city council resolution 50, which sets that goal for zero racial disparities in traffic stops, citations and arrests.
“Austin is safer when we invest in the success of our Black and Brown communities, not discriminate against people during traffic stops,” said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar in a statement to KXAN Monday. “Disparities in our approach to policing are well documented. Our goal must be zero racial disparities in traffic stops. I’m committed to continuing our work to reimagine public safety in Austin.”
“This is not a criticism of any individual officer or the profession, this is something that is an issue in every police department across the country, but I feel very strongly that Austin is positioned to be a leader in figuring out how we get to zero and how we address racial disparities,” said Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the data is a helpful tool in moving toward the city’s goals.
“Our work is cut out for us, but engaging with this data, using it to more thoughtfully change how we approach public safety—we have a chance to end up with a system that is more just, more safe for everyone that lives in Austin,” Adler said.
An Austin Police Department spokesperson released a statement saying the department is reviewing the findings of the report.
“We remain committed to eliminating racial disparities among communities of color and underrepresented populations,” the statement said. “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. We recognize there is work that still remains and we continue to make strides towards providing equitable public safety for the entire Austin community.”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says he stands by APD officers, saying they are trained by one of the best police academies in the country, and that “this fact is failed to be recognized by our city government.”
“It’s clear to me that the a Austin Police Department has been making progress in the highlighted areas for years. The community needs to know that every traffic stop is recorded by in-car video and officers’ body cameras,” Casaday’s statement read. “If the monitor and the innovation department feel like individuals are being racially profiled, they can make a complaint.”