Lincoln's data shows that black and African-American motorists are much more likely to be taken into custody rather than merely issued a citation, compared to white motorists. The ACLU concludes that this, too, is evidence of racial profiling by Lincoln police. I disagree. The primary cause for this disparity lies in the racial disparity in arrest warrants. Arrest warrants are issued by the court, in circumstances such as when a defendant has failed to appear, neglected to pay a fine, or fallen behind on child support payments. Warrants require the officer to make a custodial arrest. It is not optional.
An arrest pursuant to a court-issued warrant is the most common arrest made by a Lincoln police officer. Last Thursday morning, in preparation for the Crime Commission's Racial Profiling Advisory Committee meeting, I looked at the racial makeup of the defendants of the 3,432 that were held by the Lincoln Police Department at the time:
WHITE: 1834 53.4%
BLACK: 917 26.7%
HISPANIC: 536 15.6%
ASIAN: 37 1 %
NATIVE AMERICAN: 108 3.1%
Police officers conducting traffic enforcement routinely run a computer checks on drivers. An arrest warrant turns a warning ticket for into a trip to jail. If Lincoln's population is 5.3% black or black in combination with some other race, then the disparity of arrest warrants is a factor of five. This explains the disparity in custodial arrests from traffic stops. Custodial arrest is the outcome in only 1.3% of the traffic stops overall, so it's still rather uncommon.
This same racial disparity in arrest warrants also exists in suspended drivers, by the way. Suspended driving is a high-grade traffic misdemeanor, and an offense that frequently involves a custodial arrest. Thus, racial disparity in suspended drivers is also contributing to the racial disparity in the outcome of traffic stops.
While the disparity in warrants and suspended drivers helps explain the disparity in custodial arrest, it is also in part a circular argument: warrants and license suspensions occur when charges accumulate. One leads to the other. Something I'm quite interested in is whether we could do anything in our community to reduce the number of arrest warrants that are issued. This would not only reduce the disparity in custodial arrests, but it would save some considerable criminal justice resources.
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Links to the series: