Continued racial disparities in APD motor vehicle stops, joint report reveals

A new report has shed some light on the racial disparities people of color face in Austin when it comes to getting stopped by the police. 

In a joint report by the City's Office of Police Oversight, the Office of Innovation and the Equity Office, data collected from 2015-2018 police traffic stops show that people of color living in Austin get stopped by police at a disproportionately higher rate than their percentage of the population. 

“In order to prioritize equity, transparency, and accountability, it is necessary for the City of Austin to seriously examine the disproportionality in how people of color experience policing in Austin," said Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin. "A review of this disproportionality and solutions to address it are important in achieving the fair administration of justice." 

The APD Annual Report focuses on the raw data of stops, searches, and arrests. However, this new joint report focuses on the ethnicity of those who have been stopped in the context of their overall percentage of the population. 

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"This report opens the door for us to have the real critical and courageous conversation about how racism plays out in policing and the fair administration of justice in our city," said Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks.

The report also made a list of recommendations to "advance the goal of ensuring that all community members are treated fairly and equitably in the enforcement of laws," said a press release. 

The recommendations include that the City of Austin recommit to ending the racial disparities as well as asking APD to reach out to sister cities that have had success in reducing racial disparities in policing.  

The report also suggests continued and enhanced training within the police department. 

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APD Chief Brian Manley responded to the report by saying, “The Austin Police Department is committed to doing all that we can to ensure our service and practices serve everyone in a fair and equitable manner. I welcome the opportunity to see what practices other agencies are doing and how we might incorporate them in Austin. We are working diligently to address disparities and will continue to engage with the community in these efforts.” 

Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder called the report "a validation."

“It's a validation, confirmation of what they already know; that there's racism in this city and in this country. And we understand that and it's frustrating. It's unfortunate,” said Linder.  

This isn’t the first time Linder has seen these numbers and he said it's beyond time for change. 

“Every year we get a report on racial profiling and it says the same thing. So what's wrong with that picture? Well, you're not addressing the causes, there's no consequences. So, frankly, what's the point?” Linder said.    

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Manley said he understands the concerns raised by the data. However, he believes a more comprehensive study is needed to really know what changes should be made. 

“I'm not suggesting there are no disparities, but I am suggesting that we dig deeper to understand what's driving them so that we are addressing, with our resources, the appropriate root cause,” said Manley.  

Linder said it really falls on the city to make a difference. 

“They're not serious about this issue. I don't mean APD, I think they need to have some help, I mean our city government. I always say, in these kind of issues, you look at your city government. I don't hear that conversation. They don't talk about racial profiling,” said Linder.   

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Austin Mayor Steve Adler responded with a statement that reads: “The findings of this report are on their face very disappointing – and they reflect a lived experience many in our community have been raising for some time. Our city must be equitable and ethical. This report helps frame our challenge and will help us measure the progress we must achieve from efforts both underway and needed. As a city, in so many ways, we must do better.”

Manley explained the department does already have policies and discipline guidelines in place to address racial profiling. 

He worries this report will damage relationships built between police officers and the Austin community. 

“Perception becomes reality and a report like this, I absolutely understand it is concerning, but it's also concerning because we want to make sure this community knows they have a police department they can trust,” Manley said.  

Linder suggested APD meet with the Travis County Sheriff's Office for advice on policies that prevent racial profiling. Manley said he's happy to do that, but said it’s important to keep in mind the differences between city and county populations, calls and responses.