Saturday, August 27, 2005

ACLU vs. police unions on interpreting profiling data

Yesterday Tom Gaylor, a Texas police union lobbyist portraying himself as a "criminologist and sociologist," responded in the comments to Grits' post detailing new federal racial profiling statistics. Later, King Downing, director of ACLU's New-York-based national campaign to end racial profiling, sent me a response to Gaylor via email. Tom's arguments were so typical of police obfuscations about profiling that, with King's permission, I wanted to publish his riposte here. Tom's comments King is responding to are included in bold:

Whether intended or not Tom Gaylor’s response misses the point in many serious ways:

“This and other studies like this have continued to fuel the fire of racial tension between law enforcement and minority groups.”

The studies don’t fuel the tension—they try to measure it. Gaylor is blaming the messenger. The thermometer doesn’t cause the fire.

“…these studies…have never and will never be able to explain the reason for the disparity…”

Gaylor is using a straw man. The studies don’t claim to explain the reason for the disparities. The studies were begun in response to police, in the absence of data, dismissing the community’s complaints as anecdotal evidence.

“…special interest groups rush to label police as racists.”

Gaylor is running out of straw. I challenge Gaylor to present one quote from an organization claiming police are racist as a result of a racial profiling data report. And in my book, law enforcement is a special interest group, and a powerful one at that. Ask any politician who tries to pass even a modest a racial profiling law.

“As a sociologist and a criminologist the danger of never determining why the disparities exists is that we will never be able to address the real issues.”

Nothing Gaylor says is true. The reason for the disparities can be determined—ask the police. In Rhode Island’s study police were asked in advance of the results if there were any reason they might have disparities. Researchers looked into the stated causes, and found that they had no relation to the differences. Best of all, they were able to include this finding in the report itself. In the past such explanations by police went unchallenged because the research had ended.

“In criminal statistics and prison populations minorities groups are drastically overrepresented so why should we be surprised that the numbers of minorities searched or arrested would be any different.

“More crime is committed by those and against those who live in lower socioeconomic areas."

Minority crime statistics are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you target them, you will see more of them in court and in jail.

And what about white-collar crime? Can we say “Enron?” Compared to street crime, its costs are staggering. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that six percent of revenues are lost through occupational fraud and abuse: asset misappropriation, corruption, or fraudulent statements. Applied to the Gross Domestic Product, this adds up to about $600 billion, or about $4,500 per employee. The typical criminal is an older white man in the upper company hierarchy. Median losses for the oldest employees (over 60) were $500,000, which was 27 times higher than losses caused by employees less than 26 years of age.

If it costs society so much where is the “war” on corporate crime? Where are the politicians “get tough, lock ‘em up, throw away the key” speeches? Why aren’t older white males being targeted, arrested, filling the jails? Of course, that would be racial profiling.

Despite Gaylor’s claims to the contrary, stereotypes about race and crime drive law enforcement and are not “well beyond the control of law enforcement officers.” As they see “hit rate” data showing that once stopped, people of color are not more likely, and often less likely, to have drugs or weapons on them than whites, are causing objective sociologists and criminologists, and police, to see that race is not a legitimate factor in stops and searches. These true scientists are using the data to press police for explanations, not provide them with excuses.


Kevin Whited said...

Despite Gaylor’s claims to the contrary, stereotypes about race and crime drive law enforcement and are not “well beyond the control of law enforcement officers.” As they see “hit rate” data showing that once stopped, people of color are not more likely, and often less likely, to have drugs or weapons on them than whites, are causing objective sociologists and criminologists, and police, to see that race is not a legitimate factor in stops and searches. These true scientists are using the data to press police for explanations, not provide them with excuses.

The first statement in bold seems overly broad.

If you're as commited to scientific inquiry as you contend, then I think you'd probably concede that you're positing a hypothesis, and a really strong one. Now maybe racial stereotypies are a factor, but wouldn't it be a good idea to design a study that tries to get at EXACTLY why searches are performed at a greater rate when minorities are stopped?

There may well be non-racial reasons. There may not. Unlike folks on either side, I'd rather not simply assume that the reason is 100% racism, or that the reason is 100% environmental. Chances are good that depending on either single variable is probably not going to be a robust enough model to produce a very large explained variance.

But, I'm willing to see what well designed studies say.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hey, Kevin, thanks for commenting.

The studies getting to your concerns, IMO, are ones where data is available to look at consent searches by race and the resulting hit rates.

Officers request consent to search entirely at their own discretion. By definition, if they had cause to search they wouldn't need consent. So we look at those figures and see that minorities have their consent requested more frequently. Then look at hit rates, or the rate at which officers find contraband when they search, and according to the federal survey, and data from several Texas' departments, the greater number of searches are not justified by higher hit rates for minorities. In fact, in the federal survey, contraband was found on blacks, in particular, at a much lower rate than on whites. That was also true of Austin PD's data.

So, in the measurement that arguably gets closest to weighing officer discretion -- the frequency of consent searches and their relative productivity -- the available statistical evidence supports the contention that minorities appear to be targeted for searches more often than is warranted for pure public safety purposes.

That's why the focus on the post-stop data is really important. We can argue all day about whether minorities are stopped "more often than they should be." But post-stop data provides much greater opportunities for precision at measuring officer discretion, and IMO will provide the basis for the most successful police efforts to use profiling data to actually reduce discrimination in their departments. Best,

Anonymous said...

While I should not be surprised to see that you would not publish my complete response, I am not going to get into a running debate on an ACLU Web-blog, as exciting as it may be.

I would like to correct you about my background.

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Texas Arlington and Mster of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of North Texas. I have also been a police officer for over 12 years which I think qualifies me as a Criminologist and a Sociologist. What's you're backround Scott?

By the way I've included a quote from a well know representative of a national organizations that makes it a practice to call law enforcement racists. I will send you more as I see them. Since I don't know if you asked for it or Mr. Downing, I'll trust that you'll forward it along.

Austin American Statesman July 30, 2003 Metro/State

Police shootings draw protest

Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder, the Rev. Sterling Lands II and others representing the East Austin community gathered Tuesday at Austin Police Department headquarters to protest the recent shooting death of 27-year-old Lennon C. Johnson by a Travis County sheriff's deputy, as well as the shooting deaths of Sophia King and Jessie Lee Owens by Austin police officers.

Linder blamed "a policy of white racism and police brutality" for the shootings, all of which involved a white officer and a black victim. Austin police declined to comment.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're pretty funny, Tom! Nobody's questioning your credentials. I'm questioning why you would identify yourself as some sort of academic instead of as a police union lobbyist who worked to kill Texas' racial profiling legislation this spring. Concealing your vested interests when you argue isn't considered kosher in the blogosphere, fyi.

As for my credentials, the last educational institution that deigned to give me a degree was Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler (who, incidentally, won the 2004 5A state football championship). If the contest is about who has more letters after their name, you win. On the other hand, there are many people who have been educated beyond their intelligence.

Your quote from Nelson Linder is disingenuous and non-responsive. King challenged you to show a group using racial profiling data to call police "racist," and you failed. Linder was talking about several black people, some of them unarmed, who were killed by police, not data collection. And you know it.

Finally, I'll assume you're just new to the blogosphere, but you should know that your complete response was and is fully available in the comments to the original post, and I linked to them again in the preface to King's remarks. I gave you plenty of air time, pal.

Don't get me wrong. You're always welcome to come by Grits and comment. But don't expect me to agree with the police unions on this one that the topic's just not worth studying.

Anonymous said...

"Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler"...Go Rebels!

(They probably haven't been called "Rebels" in years, but they were when I was there and the school was new and the darling "modern school" of the nation)

Go Rebels!

Anonymous said...

Grits, you're wrong on your ideas that whites are more likely "etc". You're making racial generalities that statistics don't support. Hmmm...what's that called? Oh yeah! "Racism"
I can back what I say, Grits. Can you?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ Joe Mama: None of those sources analyzes Texas statistics. What are you talking about?

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