Monday Morning Thoughts III: Racial Profiling

racial-profling-car

(Editor’s note: our readers asked me last week to segment the Monday Morning Thoughts column into separate parts, and I have obliged)

Last week we noted that on February 28, from 1 to 3 pm at the Davis Community Chamber, the HRC will be hosting the third annual Breaking the Silence of Racism Event.

During that discussion, one reader cited a report entitled, “The Racial Profiling Myth Debunked,” which argues, “The anti–racial profiling juggernaut has finally met its nemesis: the truth. According to a new study, black drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike are twice as likely to speed as white drivers, and are even more dominant among drivers breaking 90 miles per hour. This finding demolishes the myth of racial profiling.”

But does it? The problem of “proof” in social science which, as I was taught in day one in my methodology class in the Political Science Graduate Program at UC Davis. does not exist. Proofs are for mathematics, and statistical analysis can only show correlation from which we can draw inferences.

The 13-year-old article is a small snapshot of a much larger issue. The problem here is that police profile all the time. It could be a pretext stop, it could be a car that looks like it’s from out of the area. It could be a minor violation where the police are fishing for a citation or arrest. I’ve had police officers tell me that they do this. I’ve also been on ride-alongs enough to know that, much of the time, you can’t see the race of the driver, especially at night.

But there is, of course, other evidence that bolsters the claim. We have the case of Curtis V. Rodriguez v. California Highway Patrol,89 F. Supp. 2d 1131 (2000), from well over 12 years ago.

Here is the synopsis from the ACLU:

On June 6, 1998 Curtis Rodriguez, a Latino attorney from San Jose, observed five traffic stops and at least ten CHP and BNE vehicles within 10 miles. Everyone stopped was Latino. Rodriguez and his passenger, Arturo Hernandez, began taking pictures of the stops. Finally Rodriguez himself was pulled over by CHP, despite his efforts at obeying all traffic laws.

The officer told Rodriguez he had pulled him over because his car touched the line and had turned his headlights on.

“The officer told me he was going to search the car for weapons,” said Rodriguez. “I refused permission for the search. Since I’m attorney, I know my rights. The officer had no probable cause to search the car, so I refused consent to search. Unfortunately, the officer refused to respect my legal rights. He ordered me out of the car and searched the car, without my permission. Of course, he found nothing illegal. The officer then checked out my license, my passenger’s license and my insurance papers, and after ten minutes, he ordered us back into the car. We sat waiting twenty more minutes in the car, and then finally, he told us we could go. He didn’t issue me a ticket, because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

In response to this Rodriguez joined with the ACLU-NC and the San Francisco based law firm Keker & Van Nest to file suit against CHP. During the lawsuit, it was found that Latinos were approximately three times more likely to be searched by CHP officers than whites in the Central and Coastal Divisions, and African-Americans were approximately twice as likely to be searched in those divisions.

Nearly four years later a settlement was finally reached, and CHP committed to making wide spread reforms. Among these included no longer allowing CHP to use traffic violations as an excuse for stopping and searching a car for illegal drugs unless the officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion of drug activity. CHP has also declared a moratorium on consent searches until 2006.

Further, Comprehensive data must be collected for each stop including race, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and the legal basis for the search, as well as the results of the stop and search.

“Today’s settlement marks a turning point in the fight against racial profiling in California,” said Curtis Rodriguez, a plaintiff in the case. “This settlement is important because it will make our highways safer for everyone; Latino and African American motorists will no longer have to live in fear of being stopped and searched simply because of the color of their skin.”

Critics will naturally focus on the fact that this was a settled case, but the facts are remarkable here – the fact that Latinos were three times more likely to be searched when pulled over, and African-Americans were twice as likely when pulled over, gives credibility to the notion of a pretext stop where the purpose of the stop is not the infraction but rather to use it to search the car.

They may have settled the case to avoid an admission or finding of fact, but, more importantly, they changed the practice.

Following the “lawn mowing while black incident” the Human Relations Commission met with Assistant Chief Darren Pytel and went over years of data on traffic stops in Davis by race. The data were inconclusive. The problem we faced was this: community members for years believe that racial profiling is prevalent in Davis. Davis Police Officers do not believe that they are doing this.

The solution? Find out next week.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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26 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    David

    This is just a question since I have not done any ride alongs nor spoken with any police about this matter. I am wondering if the issue in Davis might not be race, but rather age. Because we are located right next to the university, is it possible that the over riding discriminatory factor in making stops and searches might be the age of the driver rather than their race ?

    1. David Greenwald

      There is an age issue, but the bigger issue I think is probably due to the confluence of race and socio-economics and that police are probably more likely to pull over older, less well-maintained cars. Of course that ends up being students as well.

        1. hpierce

          DP… “pulling over” is not equal to arresting/charging, much less incarcerating.  I call BS, unless you can provide evidence/citations (credible, that is).

      1. Topcat

        There is an age issue, but the bigger issue I think is probably due to the confluence of race and socio-economics and that police are probably more likely to pull over older, less well-maintained cars. Of course that ends up being students as well.

        We are missing the predominant reason that pull overs occur.  It is because some traffic violation has occurred; perhaps speeding, failing to stop completely at a stop sign, running a red light or making an illegal turn.  Pull overs also occur because of vehicle compliance issues; headlight or taillights out, out of date registration, broken mirrors etc.  Police don’t generally look at the occupants and say to themselves “Let’s pull him over because he’s Black/Hispanic/Asian/Indian/young/old/is dressed shabbily.”

        I was even pulled over once because I had my high beams on at night.  The officer reminded me to use the low beams in town and when there is oncoming traffic.

        One thing I would like to see the police doing a lot more of is pulling over the idiots talking on their cell phones while driving.  I see this happening almost every day. I’d like to see a lot more citations issued for this violation.

        1. David Greenwald

          In a sense we’re not missing that at all. A lot of the racial profiling complaints stem from traffic stops that do not result in traffic tickets being issued – where the police officer really is pulling someone over on a hunch and it is a pretext stop.

          “Police don’t generally look at the occupants and say to themselves “Let’s pull him over because he’s Black/Hispanic/Asian/Indian/young/old/is dressed shabbily.””

          Most of that is hard to discern in a police car. More likely they see a car that is older and less well maintained, someone who looks like they might not belong and then look for articulable reasons to pull them over.

          Again, I’m mainly focusing not on legitimate traffic stops, but more of the gray area, pretext stops.

        2. Topcat

          More likely they see a car that is older and less well maintained, someone who looks like they might not belong and then look for articulable reasons to pull them over.

          I travel around Davis every day and I frequently see cars pulled over.  In fact, I just saw one today on Russell Blvd, west of Anderson.  The cars I see pulled over are not usually junkers, rather they are nice looking late model vehicles.  I’ve seem nice Mercedes and Porsches pulled over as well as minivans and plenty of compacts.

          I do want to see police pulling over vehicles that clearly are suspicious such as the beat up pickup truck with a bunch of bicycles in the back at 4AM.  This would clearly indicate a probable bicycle thief and such a stop would be fully justified.

          Perhaps Davis is not the typical city, but it’s my impression that police pull overs are due to violations rather than profiling.

  2. zaqzaq

    That would be interesting.  You would also have to look at accident rates for drivers by age and gender to see if their is a pattern.  I believe younger drivers insurance rates are higher due to accidents.  If most accidents are caused by vehicle code violations it may be that older drivers are more cautious while driving and thus less likely to be pulled over.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Liberals just like to pick and choose when they criminal profile. Like when we have a mass murder, the Libs come out to clamor for a middle aged white male, which is typically true.

    1. sisterhood

      The facts speak for themselves, it’s not a “liberal” issue, however you choose to define “liberal”.
      “…the facts are remarkable here – the fact that Latinos were three times more likely to be searched when pulled over and African-Americans were twice as likely when pulled over, gives credibility to the notion of a pretext stop where the purpose of the stop is not the infraction but rather to use it to search the car.
      They may have settled the case to avoid an admission or finding of fact, but more importantly they changed the practice.”

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      Was I that unclear? When there is a mass murder, liberals / progressive talkers / politicians are often on television, radio, etc., saying “We need to find this individual… we know that, most likely, he is a loner, a middle aged white male …”

      They criminal profile, but you call it “racial profile”. I’ve heard and prefer the term “criminal profile” because police aren’t pulling over 70-year-old Latino, Swedish, or Mexican grandmothers. … they use a number of criteria, and race may be one of many.

      1. Frankly

        This covers a big part of my take…

        I think “racial profiling” is truly a de minimis issue.  The number of truly racist cops, in my view, are much less than the number of truly racist people in the general population.

        A. As this video shows, there is an unequal response of deadly force when there is:

        1. And encounter with the police.

        2. Any sign of aggression toward the police.

        B. Blacks are more likely to have encounters with police because:

        1. They are more concentrated in high crime areas.

        2. The are more likely to be involved in crime.

        C. Blacks are more likely to demonstrate signs of aggression with the police because:

        1. Al Sharpton and other race baiters and the media and Democrats keep up the narrative that racism is prevalent and explains black disparity in crime and economic outcomes… and so blacks develop an attitude about the cops that causes them to respond to cop encounters with more aggression or frustration.

        2. Aggressive behavior is part of black culture, and might be due to physiological differences like greater levels of testosterone.

        Add this all up and I think it explains 99% of the over-representation of blacks in crime and punishment.  It is not racial profiling.

        And if you want to argue about why a place like Davis gets reported as being racist… go to section C. above and also consider that much of what blacks might consider as signs of racism are simply a level of both curiosity and intolerance from residents at people not matching the human expectations for the Davis DNA.   And related to our schools… it isn’t so much that Davis schools are racist as they are biased against those kids not blessed with a narrow template of academic gifts and nerdy white or Asian student behavior (again, part of the human Davis DNA).

        1. Tia Will

          Aggressive behavior is part of black culture, and might be due to physiological differences like greater levels of testosterone.”

          Please cite your source for this assertion.

  4. Davis Progressive

    meant to post this here…

    my view is that racial profiling  and pretext stops still exist.  what you’re looking for – and a police officer once testified to this – a car that looks like it doesn’t belong, then a reason to pull people over – and that’s easy because everyone speeds, everyone forgets to signal, etc.  it used to be they would ask to search calls based on traffic stops and people didn’t know their rights.  now that policy ended, so what they do is hope to have a reason to search whether it’s probation or otherwise.  this stuff absolutely happens and when you end up with disproportionate stops for people of color, it becomes known as racial profiling.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    I’d need to know a lot more about the Central and Coastal Divisions to know if there was truly racial profiling going on. Who commits the crime there?

    If group “x” is 10% of the population but commits 25% of the crime, if they are pulled over 20, 25, 30% of the time – I wouldn’t say that is profiling but reflective of who commits crime.

    I say this because I signed up for a central coast news blog a few years ago, and the criminal pattern appears to be very clear: local politicians behaving badly (its crazy there!); white people, often on meth; and a heavy dose of Latinos. It could be that this news blog is purposefully choosing these cases, and they aren’t representative, but from the comments section citizens also seem to complain about a lot of crime being generated by local Latino gangs, illegal immigrants, meth heads and politicians.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    You wrote: “The 13-year-old article is a small snapshot of a much larger issue.”

    I’d say its a pretty good snapshot because it showed that police wrote tickets at almost the exact same percentage as citizens who broke the traffic laws. The testing methodology, high-speed cameras, etc., also served as a way to remove subjectivity and bias from the study.

    David then goes on to contradict himself. On the one hand he says that “police profile all the time”, and later he says ” I’ve also been on ride-alongs enough to know that, much of the time, you can’t see the race of the driver, especially at night.” So which is it, David?

    The police are not to ignorant as to look at one item. They look at multiple items simultaneously, and good cops probably do it very quickly.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      So says the nations liberal icon.

      So Australians, American lawyers, and Australian black bus drivers are racist because they give less leeway to black bus riders without the fare. Interesting.

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