Friday, April 06, 2012

Marijuana arrests cases in Austin rose 69% from 2007 to 2010, dropped off with fewer traffic stops

A buddy of mine asked the Austin Police Department for information on the number of marijuana arrests and citations over the last few years (the departments says it cannot disaggregate them) broken out by race. Here's what they sent him:


Just a few, initial thoughts: For starters, the 69% increase in marijuana cases in Austin from 2007 to 2010 is flat-out stunning, far dwarfing population growth, reported drug use trends, or any other conceivable, extraneous factor that might explain the data. That big a difference could only result from a policy change of some stripe. There certainly weren't that many more Austinites smoking pot in 2010 than in 2007.

Second, the drop in new marijuana cases from 2010 to 2011 may be explained by the radical reduction in traffic stops by Austin PD during the same period. "Austin police officers made 179,882 motor vehicle stops in 2011 compared to 232,848 in 2010," according to the city's racial profiling report. That's just a guess - I don't know what proportion of marijuana cases originate at traffic stops - but it seems like a logical correlation. Moreover, the previous years had witnessed higher than usual numbers of traffic stops thanks in part to now-dwindling federal grant funds that paid for overtime for that purpose. It's possible, in other words, that the number of marijuana cases is a dependent variable subject to the vicissitudes of the number of traffic stops overall. What other theories can readers suggest that might explain the data?

Finally, since my friend asked for the information broken out by race, it's worth noting that non-Hispanic white folks made up 34% of marijuana cases over this period compared to 48.7% of the population citywide in Austin, according to the 2010 census. Meanwhile, black folks make up just 8.1% of Austin's population, but a whopping 28.1% of petty marijuana cases. Latinos are the only one of the three largest ethnic categories who are arrested and cited for marijuana at roughly their proportion in the general population. Whether the disparity is driven by race or whether race is a proxy for other factors - like police deployment decisions - I cannot say. But I don't understand why the number of marijuana cases should be rising, and I certainly don't understand why black folks would be targeted so much more frequently for enforcement. Don't kid yourself. There are a LOT of white pot smokers in this town.

CLARIFICATION: Though the headline said "arrests," I conflated terms, The number of new marijuana "cases" increased 69%, but the data provided was both for arrests AND citations given for Class B and A marijuana possession. I apologize for any confusion.

23 comments:

Bryces Battle said...

These factors are stunning!

I have known people who use drugs of choice, when they cannot get-afford-other, drugs that would otherwise be precribed to them.

Since Hispanic is the larger group and white being second, does this also mean that Texas largest population is Hispanic first and Whites second and so on? I don't always get the relevance of why charts like this are broken down by nationality, heritage, race and similar. Regardless, that is a lot of use and arrest.

peace

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BB, Whites are more numerous than Histpanics in Austin, they're just busted for pot possession at lower per capita rates.

Anonymous said...

We all know that criminal gangs divide up the turf and try to avoid crossing the territory of rivals. But, they also divide up their sources of income. Traditional methods such as extortion, robbery and burglary provide this income. Some gangs rely on the sale of crack cocaine. Some mess with marijuana even though it's not that profitable an alternative.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:45, I'm willing to bet if one were to cross-reference Austin marijuana arrests with the state criminal street gang database, the crossover would be de minimis. The rise in Austin pot busts has nothing to do with gangs.

John D. McLauchlan said...

I wonder if the same trends would hold true in Dallas since DPD also wrote fewer traffic citations in 2011.

Vimilimitex said...

And I wonder about San Antonio. I'll try getting the info from SAPD, and if I have any luck, I'll let you know.

Vimilimitex said...

And I wonder about San Antonio. It'll be interesting to see if the SAPD will make that info available---I'll let you know.

Blue_in_Guadalupe said...

Yet another reason to legalize marijuana, too many resources devoted to a crime in name only. Prohibition of alcohol didn't work in the 20's and 30's and prohibition of marijuana hasn't worked for the last 40 years so it's time we learn our lesson and repeal all laws prohibiting it's use. I don't use marijuana or any other drug and have no other dog in the hunt but I can see that enforcement is racist in application if not intent and there are other more important things we can do with our law enforcement personnel. So if you're a democrat I urge you to take the following resolution calling for a platform plank on legalizing marijuana to your senate district convention on April 21. http://www.burntorangereport.com/diary/12008/#60114

vegas said...

The corrrelation here is money. It's ALWAYS about the money. They dont care about the crime. The economy tanked in 2008, the liutenants told their guys they need more money, make more stops.

I would assume as the inevitable revenue decline began did they lose officers or did people move out of the area. Also, when gas prices spiked people may have driven less equating to elss traffic stops.

Just keep following the money and it explains everything a state/city government will do.

Anonymous said...

Your chart says "arrests and citations" but your article claims that "arrests" have increased by 69%. This doesn't jive. Arrests and citations have increased. From what I understand, around 2007 APD started writing tickets for small amounts of pot. So instead of being faced with either letting someone with a joint go or arresting them, they now have the third option - giving them a ticket. I'd be surprised if arrests have gone up considerably. I'd wager the increase is due to the citations. If you can get APD to further break out the arrests vs. citations, it may shed some light on this.

Bryces Battle said...

Blue, I so agree with you, so many funds used in Name Only... So true. I'm not sure about the racist portion, only because I see many cases against.. wait, you wrote racist, which race are you speaking of? Maybe I could better exspress it this way, I have seen injustic against all race, creed, nationality, heritage, and I have seen this done by those in postions of control and yes, they are of all race, creed, nationality and heritage. I wish I could completely believe in the statistics and numbers, but who really knows.

I would like to see the TRUE statics on something Blue brings up, how much money is being funded and enforce the obviously losing battle against Marijuana.

Like you Blue_in_Guadalupe, I have no interest or use for any illegal drug, I don't even drink. However I against injustice in general.

You make excellent points.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:58, it's arrests and citations combined that increased 69%.

Scott Robison said...

Considering that SXSW attendance grew over 55% from 2007 to 2010 according to the best numbers I can find online (from 126,900 to 197,200), it might not be that incredible a leap. More research would be necessary to find out if a significant portion of the increase was concentrated to that period (or other time intervals that bring a lot of people to Austin, though my understanding is that SXSW is by far the biggest draw).

Scott Robison said...

Also interesting: SXSW growth in musicians & crew over that same period was over 95%. Coincidence? Perhaps. :)

HBK said...

@Grits- that's the point. Your headline and blog post are misleading. Arrests are not the same as citations. Citations are tickets, like speeding or driving without insurance or whatever. To keep the headline and blog the same without making an attempt to verify and correct your error is misleading and intellectually dishonest. I also provided you the probable reason for the increase- convenience. 6-8 years ago the cops would often rather let someone go than arrest them for a joint or a little pot. Now, since they can write a ticket instead of going through the administrative hassle of a full-blown arrest, it's likely that the increase is due to the convenience of being able to write a ticket rather than arresting the offender.

HTH

Gritsforbreakfast said...

HBK, I'd like to see you churn out as much prose as I do without an editor and never make a usage error.

That said, despite the clarification added at the end of the post, it's not true that these "Citations are tickets, like speeding or driving without insurance or whatever" That's a complete misunderstading of what's going on. These are not Class C misdemeanors. They're the same Class B or A charges filed as if someone is arrested for pot. I'm sorry if I conflated terms at one point in the post, but it's not the case that the citations we're discussing are the same as a traffic ticket. They're a more serious charge - the same one given to those taken to jail.

Also, you gave one possible reason for the data, but there are other possible ones, like the rise in traffic stops. Moreover, your explanation doesn't explain last year's decline, while traffic stops correlate. In any event, without more information, we can only speculate about "why." If you think you've got all the answers, though, good for you.

Anonymous said...

Grits and HBK,

Do either of you know when APD ws given - and instituted - citations for petty possession? Might offer some clarification.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:45, APD implemented citations in 2009 in the middle of the fiscal year.

NixonLB said...
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NixonLB said...
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Anonymous said...

Perhaps the higher disproportionate arrest rate might have something to do with the hip hop culture that accepts and promotes smoking weed in public, which greatly increases the chances of the cannabis consumer having an encounter with law enforcement

Brian Tillman said...

Hip hop culture? Seriously? You don't think there have been any cultures in Austin before hip-hop that smoked weed in public? LMAO

Grits I'm glad you cleared up the information about the "cite and release" weed cases here- they are most definitely NOT class c tickets. Also, the difference between most of those minorities and whites who get a trip to jail instead of a citation- if you can't afford to get yourself out or hire a lawyer then you'll be there a week later at jail call with your court-appointed one, most likely pleading to back time and taking the conviction just to get out of jail. Then your drivers license will be suspended, just to add insult to injury. Seven days on a simple possession case is asinine.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second. Weed is still illegal?