By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Several years ago when I was on the Human Relations Commission, following the “Mowing While Black Incident,” I asked then-Assistant Chief Darren Pytel for the breakdown of police stops by race. At the time, he noted that, while he could produce that data, he felt that Davis had so many people coming in and out of town, it was difficult to create a baseline.
That same concern bleeds through in Darren Pytel’s response to Recommendation 1 of the Temporary Joint Subcommittee (TSJC) proposal: “Determine why racial disparities in arrests, recommended charges, and stops exist in Davis.”
Here he writes: “Of all of the recommendations in the report, this one is perhaps the most complex, with causal data difficult to isolate and interpret, and appropriate solutions even more perplexing. Looking at, analyzing, and responding to this and similar data will require continuous attention from law enforcement, including the Davis Police Department.”
Pytel continues, “In order for this data to be most meaningful to policymakers and law enforcement, a qualitative analysis should be included and data should be normalized, and compared to factors in addition to the estimated racial makeup of Davis residents. Having a more nuanced understanding of the data will more closely define actual disparities and allow for more targeted solutions.
“The issue is significantly more complicated than comparing the number of reportable stops or contacts to resident data,” he said, arguing that we do not “know the denominator” and, second, noted that “proportionality assumes that any arrest disparities must be due to bias alone and not some degree of differential offending.”
Instead, Pytel said, “There are, in fact, many studies that address differential offending as a result of disparities in very complex and intervening societal risk factors.”
With all due respect, I don’t think this issue is all that complex. We live in a town populated with people who are trained methodologists and, frankly, this isn’t asking for someone to do a complex multi-variate regression analysis.
In fact, as I will argue, we actually have a lot of the data that the chief claims is missing—he is simply not looking in the right place.
This response suffers from two major problems. The first is Darren Pytel is clearly writing in a law enforcement silo and he is also writing in a Davis silo.
We actually have good data on who comes to town and, indeed, the Vanguard has been working with it in other contexts—mostly transportation and student housing—for several years. We have the UC Davis travel survey that shows every day during normal times at least about 28,000 people come to town on any given day, we also have the State of the City Report, that also shows a great deal of people coming into this community.
We also have a good deal of information about what those groups look like. The UC Davis students are slightly more diverse than the city as a whole—many more Asians, more Latinos, and about the same percentage of Blacks.
We may not know the exact denominator, but we have a reasonable estimate and if people are coming to town to, say, steal catalytic converters or otherwise committing some crime, that number is actually tiny compared to the tens of thousands coming to town each day to attend or work at the university.
And so, on a daily basis, we have a fairly good idea what the racial breakdown looks like in the city—perhaps a PhD student can do a more finely tuned assessment, but at the end of the day, we know racial disparities exist throughout the system and Davis is bit more skewed than the average community in California.
That gets me to the second problem with the data.
Pytel argues “proportionality assumes that any arrest disparities must be due to bias alone.” This is a classic error conflating individual bias with systemic racism.
There is a perception out there that the racial bias in the system is committed by individually biased individuals, whereas the reality is that systemic racism often bakes that bias into the system.
Radley Balko points out that “systemic racism” is often misinterpreted to mean “everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them.”
The data in Davis bear this out.
“The percentage of Hispanic and Black arrestees in Davis over the 2015-19 period is strongly disproportionate to the population shares of these groups in the City, a finding which holds even when considering arrests of Davis residents only,” the joint subcommittee finds.
The numbers at the local level are stunning: “Black people are arrested at a rate 5.9 times more, and Hispanic people 1.5 times more, than their population share; when considering only Davis residents, Black people are arrested at 5.0 times and Hispanic people 1.4 times their population share.”
The joint subcommittee reports that both sets of figures far exceed the racial disparity in arrests in the United States as a whole—and I would add, are worse than the statewide average as well.
It goes further: “Similar racial inequalities hold with respect to the overall number of recommended charges filed by Davis Police Department (DPD) officers in the city, and Hispanic and Black people are also subject to traffic-related stops and searches at a much higher rate than their respective population shares in Davis (though roughly proportional to regional population shares).”
They recommend: “[A] detailed study of the determinants of racially disproportionate stops, arrests, and recommended charges in Davis, including an analysis of the relative contributions of potential bias in policing, potential bias in community reporting, and socio-economic factors. This will likely require a regional analysis in partnership with agencies from Yolo County and surrounding counties.”
We have a number of state and national studies on this.
National studies show that what is happening in Davis is not unique—though it may be more extreme.
A number of national studies show Blacks are more likely to be stopped and more likely to be searched—with a far lower percentage than whites of hits or contraband found when they are searched, implying that whites are stopped for evidence-based reasons, Blacks for biased reasons (see the Stop and Frisk data and also some of the larger police stop studies in multiple states).
The book Suspect Citizens came out in 2018, and it looked at data from North Carolina and found, “Blacks were 63 percent more likely to be stopped even though, as a whole, they drive 16 percent less. Taking into account less time on the road, blacks were about 95 percent more likely to be stopped.
“Blacks were 115 percent more likely than whites to be searched in a traffic stop (5.05 percent for blacks, 2.35 percent for whites),” they found.
And the incredible thing: contraband was more likely to be found in searches of white drivers.
Why is that? We think largely because Black drivers are being searched based on factors that have less to do with the probability of having contraband—they are more blanket searches, while whites are being searched because there is a specific reason to search them.
“So, black drivers were stopped disproportionately more than white drivers compared to the local population and were at least twice as likely to be searched, but they were slightly less likely to get a ticket,” Professor Kelsey Shoub, one of the authors, explained. “That correlates with the idea that black drivers were stopped on the pretext of having done something wrong, and when the officer doesn’t see in the car what he thought he might, he tells them to go on their way.”
They went beyond North Carolina as well. Shoub and her colleagues also analyzed stop data from 16 others states and found similar disparities.
We have local data in Davis and national studies such as the Shoub study which both are showing the same thing, but the analysis by Pytel completely avoids situating the Davis situation within a national context and within a context where we have a good and growing body of research.
My recommendation to council is to ask some methodology-trained students to work with the data and allow the council to take a research-based approach to these issues.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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