Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other disparities

So far this week, I've only dealt with disparity in the race of traffic stops. There is also disparity in the outcomes of those stops. Under the law, a police officer must collect data on what happens as the result of a traffic stop: custodial arrest, citation, warning citation, or none of these. If more than one applies, you pick the highest outcome.

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:



Anonymous said...

Very informative series of articles.
I know you are understaffed and have to use your resources wisely. How many officer hours are spent serving warrants?

I have a suggestion that might save your LPD officers a lot of work and us taxpayers money. On the Outstanding Warrants website add a link to click on to a MUGSHOT of the person wanted on the warrant. Also adding an archive of the MUGSHOTS web page would be nice. A small monetary reward for information leading to the arrest of those on the Warrants list would probably result in huge savings. Maybe these resources already exist. If so could you post the information needed to access them.
KUDOS for doing a great job,
Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

Gun Nut,

As to the hours, I can't really say with precision, but it is significant. Most warrant arrests are the result of chance encounters, but we also do many projects during the year, involving anything from a single officer to several teams of officers, aimed at proactively seeking people wanted on warrants. We also have a small multi-agency fugitive task force that does this on a full-time basis, focusing their efforts on felony warrants and the highest priority defendants.

One of the reasons we don't do this, is because I was worried it might be so much fun that the number of clicks on a public site would start negatively affecting performance from the mugshot server on the non-public side that our personnel depend on.

I also figured that anyone looking up a name would already have a good idea about that person's identity anyway, unless it happened to be an especially common name, and that date of birth, middle initial, sex and race would be sufficient to clear up any question.

Steve said...

The number of people running around with warrants out for their arrest concerns me greatly. I realize officers have other things to do, and finding a particular individual may take a lot of time away from other things. At the same time, I believe that a great many crimes are committed by people who already have a warrant out for their arrest. As I see it, there are a couple of things we can do to reduce the number of outstandsing warrants. One, is to stop issuing citations and take offenders directly to jail to await trial for their offense. I know this method is problematic, but so is letting these people go free, knowing full well that a great many of them will not pay the fine or appear in court. Another, as suggested by another commenter, is to offer a reward, a bounty if you will, for providing the information necessary to apprehend individuals with warrants, or for physically bringing them in to the police station. At the very least, citizens should have the authority to apprehend, subdue, or otherwise arrest people they know are wanted by the law without fear of prosecution for it.