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PPB traffic stop data shows Black Portlanders are overrepresented

Posted by on August 27th, 2020 at 1:55 pm

H/T Latisha Jenson, Willamette Week

Traffic Division HQ in St. Johns.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

In the first eight months of 2020, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers made 20,990 traffic stops. According to police data, between New Year’s Day and August 1st, 17.7% of the people stopped were Black — a significant overrepresentation of Portland’s Black population which was 5.8% as of 2019. Over the same time period, 64.9% of those stopped were white, a number that underrepresents that demographic by by over 12% (whites make up about 77% of Portland’s population).

Between April 1st and August 1st, Black people accounted for 12 of the 57 people (21.2%) stopped by the PPB who weren’t driving.

These numbers come to light less than a week after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he stood in the street outside his SUV and amid a tense public dialogue about systemic racism and nightly protests against racist polices and police brutality.

Q2 traffic stop data, PPB.

Traffic stops have also come under intense scrutiny from transportation advocates because they are the most common way people come into contact with police officers and research has shown racial bias often comes into play. We’ve watched videos in horror far too many times that show officers using excessive, often lethal, force against Black drivers.

Yesterday, after several NBA teams announced they wouldn’t participate in playoff games to show support for Black Lives Matter and Jacob Blake, former Portland Trail Blazer Maurice Harkless shared a personal story on Twitter about an experience he had with a police officer while driving in Portland. The officer pulled him over and treated him brusquely for no apparent reason, only to change his attitude upon learning he was a famous athlete.

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Back in July the Portland Bureau of Transportation ended a long traffic enforcement partnership with the PPB out of concerns that the stops could not be done equitably and it was fear of racial bias that led PBOT’s Vision Zero Task Force to not prioritize increased enforcement as part of its official recommendations in 2015.

PBOT map showing High Crash Intersections and Communities of Concern (areas with high scores in 10 “equity indicator” categories as defined in the Vision Zero Action Plan).

The stops data also shows that PPB Traffic Division officers were responsible for 56% of all traffic stops between January and August of this year. In 2018, former Traffic Division Captain Michael Crebs told the Vision Zero Task Force that the disproportionate rate of Black drivers pulled over was likely not only a sign of implicit bias but also due to the fact that, statistically speaking, the majority of PBOT’s “High Crash Network” intersections are located in communities with an above-average rate of people of color (and other “equity indicators”). “I want to go out there and give the level of enforcement I want, but I don’t want to over-police. It’s hard to know, where is that balance? If I don’t send my officers out there to engage in enforcement, then we don’t care. If we enforce too much, then we’re over-policing.”

“Everyone in this room has implicit bias, but the three officers in this room have a higher threshold because we have the authority to seize you and your property,” Cpt. Crebs continued. “… I have to wash that stuff out of my brain as best I can… and I know I can’t completely rid myself of that.”

There’s been a push in some cities to take traffic stops out of police hands. I’m not aware of similar efforts in Portland. Asked about it at a recent budget meeting, PBOT Director Chris Warner said it’s a question for the city’s government relations staff. He referred to citations given by automated cameras and the existing state law that requires a police officer to observe and sign off on each one of them.

Take a closer look at PPB traffic stop data on their website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

TL;DR – not all disparity is due to racism.

I’m just going to throw this out there…perhaps a community that has been generationally hassled by the law has less respect for the law. Expecting equal outcomes based solely on population makeup does not allow for any kind of diversity in culture…and some cultures/groups may take very different viewpoints to what a societal norm or expectation is. This is in no way suggesting there is not some bias – I believe there is. But not all variance can be attributed simply to bias.

I would ask my more Progressive friends: What should the percentages be?

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

“Between April 1st and August 1st, 12 of the 57 people stopped by the PPB while walking (21.2%) were Black.”

JM, you are accidentally misreading the data. If you read a bit more, the term “pedestrian” in the police counts is anyone not driving a car – it includes bicyclists, transit and scooter users. Your numbers are correct as are your percentages, but it’s not necessarily people just walking.

From the 2015 report (2013 data), page 17: “Pedestrians can be stopped for a number of reasons (see previous tables for a description of the reasons). Some violations (such as equipment violations) may seem odd but can be coded because of incident such as stopping bicycles, scooters etc.”

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

Glad to see this story; I saw it in the WW, and had a question about the data, which was answered here. The data likely mixes both traffic enforcement and pretextual stops (stops where the traffic violation is simply an excuse to pull someone over who you deem “suspicious” for whatever reason), which are inherently biased.

Before denouncing the enforcement of traffic laws, it would be helpful to see the data from the traffic division (who presumably make fewer pretextual stops than the PPB in general) broken out so we have a better idea if the numbers for “genuine” traffic enforcement are likewise skewed.

Lenny Anderson
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Lenny Anderson

More cameras, fewer cops, but primarily better designed streets, for keeping streets safe. Likewise sending a fully armed, military like, people to de-escalate a domestic row, not to mention mental health crises, is a recipe for trouble. We need to rethink “public safety,” and redirect funds to appropriate branches of city and county government…PBOT, county mental health & homeless services, mediation services. Let the police work on real crimes, including those big white collar ones.

Josh G
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Harkless was likely pulled over in W. Linn (where he lived, and stated it was before he got on highway http://www.wweek.com/news/courts/2020/08/26/former-portland-trail-blazer-maurice-harkless-says-he-was-racially-profiled-by-west-linn-police/

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

Keep fathers in the home. Stop the left-wing destruction of the nuclear family. Until then your “Whole Foods” community is a sham.

Kittens
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Kittens

Must everything be viewed through the lens of race or gender now? When will we learn; compound socioeconomic classes rather than pure race, determine almost everything in America at this point. I get that race is a huge part of identity, but educational attainment, homeowner ship or religious affiliation are equally powerful signifiers.

I am sure poor whites and blacks have more in common than not regarding the misapplication of the law. Can’t talk about that can we? Wouldn’t want people to see how they might have more power collectively, how they might join together in mutually beneficial movements. So we just let ourselves become atomized into a million little warring factions to the point of impotence.

RudiV
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RudiV

I’d be interested to see the difference between daylight and nighttime stops in Portland. In the case of the latter, it’s fairly safe to presume that, much of the time, the race of the driver can not be determined by the police officer prior to initiating a stop.

I know other municipalities have examined such data and concluded that racism is not a major factor in stop rates based on the fact that the ratios are the same after dark as in daylight.

Also “standing in the street” is a rather sanitized description of what Jacob Blake was doing when he was shot.