Friday, January 31, 2020

Confronting racism at Austin PD, ↓ TX solitary numbers may be an illusion, driver license suspensions not enhancing collections, Big-D bail reform collapses into confusion, and other stories

Here are a few odd and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

Racial bias and disparities at Austin PD
A new report from the Austin Police Monitor's office demonstrated that black Austinites are disproportionately affected by police stops, searches, and arrests. The disparities are quite large, but Austin PD doesn't provide the data needed to drill down and discover particular officers engaging in discriminatory practices. The report comes in the wake of an assistant chief stepping down in December after a whistleblower revealed racist texts and emails sent to other departmental brass over many years. The city council ordered a review of internal officer communications in response that may reveal more racist officer communication, which has the police union mad as a wet hen. The Police Monitor's report provides a less personal, more systemic assessment of racism in the department, looking beyond individuals' points of view to the impact of departmental practices. Good for the Austin city council for taking this on.

Austin police chief orders arrests for crimes cops can't prove
In other Austin PD news, Grits finds bizarre Chief Bryan Manley's position that the department will continue to arrest and cite people for marijuana possession after the City Council forbade them from doing the lab testing to prove THC levels were above .3% and the substance could be distinguished from hemp. Isn't this the police chief openly saying he has ordered his officers to arrest people when they cannot prove the elements of the crime? To my attorney readers: What legal mechanisms exist to restrain police who openly choose to make wrongful arrests that prosecutors universally dismiss? IANAL, but it seems to me police don't have authority to arrest when there's no probable cause to believe a crime was committed. And since marijuana and hemp come from the same plant, they're indistinguishable without the test.

It's also worth mentioning, bringing the subject back around to the prior item, that marijuana enforcement generates even higher racial disparities than other Austin PD activities, reported the Austin Chronicle:
Data from APD shows that in 2019, a total of 432 citations were issued for marijuana offenses. Of those, 364 went to Black or Latinx Austinites, while just 64 went to white residents – despite similar levels of marijuana use among all three populations. So stopping enforcement of low-level cannabis offenses (see "Council Unani­mous­ly Votes to End Low-Level Pot Enforcement," Jan. 24) could reduce the disproportionate impact arrests and citations have on Austin's Black and brown residents. 
"It's outrageous for APD to be pointlessly writing these worthless pieces of paper," Emily Gerrick, an attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project and an architect of the POM resolution, told us on Monday, Jan. 27. "Resources could be much better spent trying to address those types of racial disparities in the first place, such as with anti-implicit-bias training."
Competitive DA primaries in Texas
The Appeal compiled a list of competitive DA primaries in Texas. Harris, Travis, and El Paso counties are the big prizes. See a related spreadsheet.

Revenue collection not enhanced through driver license suspensions
The suspension of drivers licenses for nonpayment of traffic fines through the OmniBase program does not correlate with higher payment rates, found an analysis by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project. The program "has a profound negative impact on people already struggling financially, driving them into a cycle of debt and poverty by taking away their ability to legally drive." The groups encouraged cities and counties to stop using OmniBase altogether, suggesting payment rates may be unaffected.

↓ Texas ad seg numbers may be an illusion
The Texas Observer's Michael Barajas took a deep dive into solitary confinement issues. Texas' numbers of prisoners in solitary, dubbed "ad seg" in TDCJ parlance, has declined by more than half, according to official figures. But Barajas' reporting raises the possibility that some of that reduction stems from reclassifying prisoners, not changing the conditions they live under:
as the Texas Tribune reported last year, some of TDCJ’s new programs may actually mask the extent to which the state has reformed its solitary confinement practices. Inmates moved out of solitary and into a mental health diversion program still live in conditions that seem indistinguishable from solitary; prisoners continue to be confined in small spaces and have limited time outside their cells. Regardless of these similarities, Texas doesn’t count its participants as being in isolated housing.
Dallas bail reform collapses into confusion
In Dallas, D Magazine has the story of how bail-reform their has collapsed into confusion. Was glad to see the article critique the same, ill-conceived op eds from the Dallas News at which Grits lashed out in this post. Here's  how the author, Shawn Shinneman, summarized the flaws in the DMN editorial board's analysis:
That editorial is inaccurate. It suggests we have true bail reform in Dallas County. We don’t. It insinuates Creuzot’s wish-list reforms are in place. For the most part, they aren’t. It also conflates a violent offender with the type of defendant bail reform is targeted at: poor people who are accused of a nonviolent offense, whose lives are upended because they don’t have money to post bond.
Long-time ex-San-Angelo police chief indicted for bribery
Timothy Ray Vasquez, who was police chief in San Angelo from 2004-2016, has been indicted in federal court for allegedly taking bribes related to the purchase of an $11 million radio system. Most of the alleged bribes were funneled through a wedding band called "Funky Munky" the chief played in on the side.

Reentry travails in Tyler
In The Tyler Loop, Jennifer Toon has an excellent essay on the travails of reentry given limited treatment resources and lack of halfway houses outside of the big population centers.

Economists economisting on crime
See the lineup for the Texas Economics of Crime Workship at Texas A&M, organized by Prof. Jennifer Doleac. As regular readers know, I consider economists' analyses of crime generally flawed and harmful. But thankfully, as in this workshop, most economists analyzing criminal-justice issues aren't utilizing economic principles, they're just doing applied math.

Flawed forensics chronicled
Recent coverage of flawed forensics deserves readers' attention:
1994 Crime Bill revisionism
Doug Berman says the 1994 Crime Bill wasn't as bad as you think and maybe even did some good, from the vantage point of 20/20 hindsight. But it still "fostered and reinforced tough-on-crime attitudes in Washington and among state and local criminal justice officials that contributed to historic growth in national prison populations." That's the most important takeaway, IMO. These revisionist analyses are fine, but here's the thing: Federal crimes are a small part of the system, so the biggest impact of the 1994 Crime Bill was political: It galvanized bipartisan support for mass incarceration that led to so-called liberal Democrats running political ads like this one:


Gadfly said...

Did you also see that other piece from D that I tweeted about that Dallas judge on civil cases? Was curious for what take you might have on it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don't think I saw it.

Rob said...

Where do they think the most crimes are committed? the most drugs deals? the most assaults?
So you want the police to pull out of the black areas and not do any enforcement. I'm sure the police would love that but it would create quite a mess in those areas. Police dont look at the driver and say he's black so let's pull him over for being black. That's not a probable cause for a stop and whatever happens you can't get a conviction for that. They have to have been doing something wrong. When I rode with police you could literally drive up and down South Congress from say Riverside to Ben White and pull over cars with no headlight and then find a ton of violations: warrants, drugs, etc. My thought is if you know you are in danger of being arrested, why would you drive around with a headlight out.

Steven Michael Seys said...

As for the TDCJ reclassification of Ad Seg, in the months leading up to my parole on the Coffield Unit, there was a practice of shifting prisoners with housing restrictions into Ad Seg as "transit overflow" by way of convincing them to drop the restrictions that medical placed on their housing. I was in the Changes class and needed only to complete the course to parole in October of '16 when my number came up and I was "segged" in "transit overflow" for a full week before my teacher was able to get me restored to general population so I could complete the course. I was forced to make up the lost class material which cost me an extra six weeks in prison before parole. My case was not an isolated instance and many more such cases could easily be found by anyone willing to ferret out the information from the morass of TDCJ obfuscation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Rob, if you read the report, the data don't support the premise that higher crime rates explain the disparities. E.g., on searches, "The 4% difference in “hit” rates between Black/African Americans and Caucasians would not explain the disparity between how often Caucasians and Black/African Americans are searched (41%)."

Similarly, if you think white folks in Austin don't smoke pot at at least the same or higher rates than black or brown people, you've definitely got another think coming.

@SMS: thanks for that. TDCJ has been bragging to the Lege about decreased solitary numbers. If it turns out to all be a mirage, there will be some legislators who aren't happy with them.

Gadfly said...

Grits, here it is. Dallas judge wants to give implicit bias instructions to jurors in civil cases. A pilot study has been given the OK to expand to a larger round 2.