Saturday, March 09, 2019

New reports show Austin police use force at traffic stops much more often than other agencies

UPDATE: Austin Police Chief Bryan Manley announced that his agency had mis-reported use-of-force data in its racial profiling report. See here for details. He did not dispute Austin's arrest data reported below.

(Original blog post) Austin police are more likely to use injury-causing force against drivers they pull over than any other large Texas jurisdiction, according to new "racial profiling" data reports out this month from law-enforcement agencies around the state. Go here to look up reports from various departments, which agencies were required to submit to the state by March 1st.

These are called "racial profiling" reports because documenting racial discrimination was their original purpose when they were mandated in 2001. But really, they're the most detailed description we have of police activities at Texas traffic stops, revealing lots of interesting patterns and trends in addition to (still extant) racial disparities.

Indeed, thanks to state Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Garnet Coleman expanding data collection in 2017 as part of the Sandra Bland Act, Texas now has MUCH more information about law enforcement activities at traffic stops in Texas, including new information about use of force at stops, how many people are arrested on outstanding warrants, and how many people are arrested for Class C misdemeanors. This is the first round of reports with the new data elements included.

Most media coverage of these reports so far has focused on racial disparities in traffic stops and searches. But Grits thought it worthwhile to focus on the new data reported. Grits created a spreadsheet with info from 4.6 million traffic stops from 38 of the largest Texas jurisdictions, calculating the rate of use of force, arrests for Class C misdemeanors, and arrests for outstanding warrants. (Among the largest jurisdictions, Fort Worth PD has not yet submitted a report.)

The reports evidenced wide variation among agencies. Let's start with use-of-force rates at traffic stops.

As mentioned in the lede, drivers stopped by Austin PD were far and away more likely to have police use force against them than any other agency, at 77 times per 10,000 stops. Houston PD was next, with a much lower rate at 53 per 10,000. After that were Denton PD (42), Corpus Christi (24), and Texas DPS (17), with rates headed south from there.

Austin police use force at traffic stops more than four times as often as state troopers, and at 20x the rate of the San Antonio PD! That's a big outlier.

Looking at arrest rates for Class C misdemeanors, Waco PD leads the pack, arresting 451 drivers out of every 10,000 traffic stops. (Amazing: That's nearly one in 20 drivers!) Following Waco, departments arresting the most people at traffic stops for Class Cs were League City (406), San Antonio (246), Odessa (236), Killeen (181), Lewisville (172), Beaumont (153), Houston (150), Midland (142), and Austin (124).

Finally, some cities focus a great deal on arresting folks with outstanding warrants for traffic tickets (this will be mostly a simple nonpayment issue), while others hardly ever arrest drivers they pull over for traffic warrants. Arlington appears to almost never enforce warrants at traffic stops, while Beaumont, Killeen, Midland, League City, and Austin top the list of jurisdictions making the most such arrests per 10K stops.

Notably, Austin PD stands out among the worst in each category: Most likely to use force at traffic stops; in the the top five on arresting for outstanding warrants; and in the top ten for arresting drivers on Class C misdemeanor charges. The city has a reputation as liberal, but these data evidence quite authoritarian policing practices compared to other large Texas jurisdictions.

However, this isn't just a capital-city story. For Texas reporters and advocates reading this, the new racial-profiling reports present an opportunity for localized focus on use of force and Class-C-misdemeanor arrests in a way that previously wasn't possible. This is information to which no one had access before! (If your local agency isn't on Grits' spreadsheet, look them up here.) As such, there's a lot more to learn than the highlights conveyed in this blog post. I'm sure Grits will return to these data soon.


Steven Michael Seys said...

"The city has a reputation as liberal..."

Remember that the role model of liberalism is Stalinism, the most authoritarian regime to sprout in the twentieth century.

Anonymous said...

Great, the highest paid police in the state are stalinists now?

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of information to unpack. Take a look at Frisco, Texas. In 2017, there were 14,739 contacts; in 2018, there are more than 3 times the number of contacts at 48,822. Total searches doubled: from 1125 to 2336.

Unknown said...

"Arlington appears to almost never enforce warrants at traffic stops, . . . ."

Looks to me that the Arlington report is totally messed up. They list only 123 total stops! Real number based off other numbers in report appears to be 123,625, suggesting that they somehow left the last three digits off of the total stops number. I suspect they did the same thing many other places in the report, including where they list "1" for number of arrests for penal code violation and "1" for outstanding warrant arrests.

Unknown said...

Another interesting stat that you may wish to compile or add to your spreadsheet is the number of traffic stops per resident.

Compare small town municipalities Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens that are notorious for traffic stops to raise revenue with Arlington, the city that surrounds them. Arlington has 123,625 stops/365,438 residents = .338 traffic stops/resident. Pantego has 6,492 traffic stops/2,394 residents = 2.712 traffic stops/resident. Dalworthington Gardens has 10,054 traffic stops/2,259 residents = 4.451 traffic stops/resident.

Soronel Haetir said...

How is enforcing warrants (however an officer comes in contact with the target) a bad thing? "among the worst in each category" reads as a highly unwarranted value judgement, particularly regarding arrests for outstanding warrants.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@soronel, most warrants, like 90%+, are for non-payment of traffic tickets and other Class C misdemeanor debt. Using cops as debt collectors in a debtors-prison-style system is the concern.

Anonymous said...

Grits, aren't most class C warrants not for non-payment but for simply not showing up at all? That is historically speaking from a project I worked on with some of the largest courts in Texas. If the numbers have changed since then, so be it but it wasn't even close compared to the non-payment warrants.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the people have a right to travel and the codes, rules, and regulations are guide lines for Commercial Drivers. Am I wrong?

A finance company that owns your title is Commercial, correct?

If you have a vehicle free & clear, do these Commercial codes, rules, and regulations apply?
of course you must do no harm to others, so you must carry insurance.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:04, insurance doesn't prevent you from doing harm, it is imperfectly designed to help make whole when you screw up. Otherwise, you are wrong if you believe the various state transportation codes only relate to commercial drivers or that someone who owns a car is somehow exempt. There are specific codes that only apply to truly commercial drivers but they tend to be more restrictive versions of codes that apply to the rest of us as well. And your "right to travel" is not a blank check to travel as you see fit by any means you'd like per our court system but I'm sure plenty of people with that were the case.