Study Finds Racial Disparity In Austin Policing

October 19, 2016 by

Austin Police Department became the first agency in the country to complete a comprehensive study on their policing practice in partnership with the Center for Policing Equity and the Urban Institute.

The results of the study found that when controlling for crime rates, income, education, and homeownership across different areas of Austin, blacks and Hispanics see a higher number of use-of-force incidents and stops resulting in citation or arrests.

The CPI, Urban Institute, and APD study titled, “The Science of Policing Equity: Measuring Fairness in the Austin Police Department,” investigated the racial disparities in the department’s policing for both 2014 and 2015.

The analysis is a joint effort of CPI’s National Justice Database Initiative (NJD), a first-of-its-kind database tracking police behavior on a national level, and the White House’s Police Data Initiative.

Over forty police departments and law enforcement agencies representing half of the nation’s major cities, and over a quarter of the population, have signed on to the initiative, but APD’s report is the first completed.

NJD said they chose APD because even though no police department in the country collects all of the data requested by the initiative, “[APD’s] use-of-force dataset is among the most comprehensive in the country and is the single most comprehensive publicly available use-of-force dataset.”

The report found that, “For use-of-force incidents, black and Hispanic communities remain more likely to experience use of force than white communities after adjusting for community-level differences in crime and poverty.”

“These findings demonstrate that even in an agency such as the APD, which is instituting reforms aimed at enhancing equity in policing, unwelcome disparities remain, indicating that more work is needed within and beyond law enforcement agencies.”

In 2015, APD stopped more white and Hispanic drivers than black drivers, not surprising given that those are the two largest demographics in Austin. But, when broken down by resulting outcome, the study found that for stops resulting in citations more white drivers were pulled over, and for stops resulting in arrests a higher number of Hispanic drivers stopped were pulled over.

When accounting for per capita stops, APD found that the rates of vehicles stopped resulting in citation or arrest were highest for black drivers. So, while black drivers numbered the fewest stopped, the rate in proportion to population was the highest. And for rates of stops resulting in citation, Hispanics and whites were similar in proportion, however, Hispanics nearly doubled whites in rates of stops resulting in arrest

When looking at the number of searches by APD that resulted in a “hit,” or contraband, the rates were relatively even. The NJD initiative determined this could be because APD has one of the strictest consent search requirements in the country, and officers must have probable cause to conduct a search.

Austin’s policing model leads the way in a number of areas. In terms of accountability, they have a separate police monitor that can hold the department accountable without fear of retribution. When it comes to transparency, citizen complaint reports are published annually online.

When a proposal was made at a recent senate interim hearing to add information on tickets and citations notifying drivers of how they can file a complaint against the department, APD Chief Art Acevedo was the first to support the idea for immediate implementation. Also in terms of transparency, Austin’s police camera policy is remarkably better than most other local agencies.

The benefits of this study, and others like it, are that they provide an objective perspective to local police allowing issues to be corrected before incidents occur. It’s no secret that relationships between communities and police is significantly strained, and studies like this show a sincere effort on the part of law enforcement to be more equitable in their policing.

Communities that feel their local police are fair are more willing to cooperate when called upon.

The results aren’t surprising. Activists, reformers, and everyday citizens have long been addressing inequity in policing. But importantly, the results aren’t an admonishment of APD, in fact, APD should be praised for welcoming and embracing the study and taking the initiative to use empirical, objective data to reform policing for Austin residents.

Many departments and lawmakers claim that data doesn’t show disparities in policing, so with APD acknowledging their existence they can possibly lead the way with meaningful policy reforms.


About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.