Mixed results show Washington County Deputies may have bias with Hispanic persons
In 2017, Oregon passed a law requiring all law enforcement agencies to collect and provide data about the people they stop. These stops are limited to those where an officer makes the decision to stop. In other words, not those stops in response to a call for service or searching for a specific suspect. The data is required to include what happens after the stop—if the person was warned, cited, searched, and/or arrested.
The project was coined the STOP Program or Statistical Transparency of Policing Data Collection Project. Its goal is to analyze standardized data to determine if persons are treated differently based on their perceived race, ethnicity, or color.
This project was legally mandated because it is a critically important issue in policing. The ability to examine our specific results and seriously consider how and why they occur is a rare opportunity that cannot be minimized.
The STOP Program is a partnership between the Oregon State Police (OSP), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Criminal Justice Commission (CJC). In the first year, only the largest police agencies (those employing more than 100 officers) were required to participate. Washington County Sheriff’s Office was one of the 12 agencies who met the criteria, participating in the first year. The CJC recently released the first year STOP Program report.
Implementation of the Study
Before looking at the results for our sheriff’s office, I want to point out a few things important to understanding this data and analysis. The program used highly complicated and rigorous analysis methods, which means that small sample sizes could not be accurately measured. As more agencies begin to participate and more time passes, additional data will allow more results which could include more categories to compare. The current results are limited to looking at how Hispanic persons and Black persons are treated in comparison to White persons when stopped by the police.
The race and ethnicity of a person were collected based on the perceptions of the officers. The program only includes situations where the officer made the choice to stop someone. This allows us to measure interactions and results when the officer can exercise choice in how they handle the interaction. This is important because some interactions do not allow an officer choice. For example, when a person is arrested, they must be searched following the arrest. Because there is no choice allowed here, these types of searches are not included in this data.
Finally, the project also measures the choices throughout the interaction. First, there is a decision, or choice, to stop someone. Then, there is a choice to warn, cite, and/or arrest someone. An officer could also make a choice to search someone. At any point throughout an interaction, the officer makes choices. The goal is to examine if these choices are made differently when an officer perceives someone’s race or ethnicity to be Black or Hispanic. Further, could this mean that decisions are made because of an underlying bias?
It is also important to note that the CJC cautions, “The analyses contained in this report cannot be used either as absolute proof that a law enforcement agency engaged in racially biased conduct or as disproof of racially biased conduct.” It is, however, an important and meaningful process to examine trends across the department and ensure equity in the decisions our deputies make.
You might wonder if choices are made based on other factors such as time of day, area of town, age or any other circumstance. This analysis first makes equal the proportion of these other circumstances, including gender, age, stop time and day of week, reason for the stop, season, and agency stop volume.
The Outcomes for Washington County Sheriff’s Office
Many of the results for Washington County Sheriff’s Office are promising. The rates at which Black and Hispanic persons are stopped during daylight hours, when their race can be easily seen, does not differ in any notable way from the rates at which White persons are stopped. The rates at which Black and Hispanic persons are searched does not differ in any notable way from the rates at which White persons are searched.
In fact, the search data for Washington County Sheriff’s Office shows that searches are conducted relatively infrequently, but when they are, contraband is found about 60% of the time. The results for searches indicate that deputies in our county are making good decisions about when to search, and that these decisions do not differ based on color of skin.
The next analysis looks at the decisions deputies make after stopping someone. In this analysis, they looked at whether the person was warned, cited, and/or arrested.
The results for this show that Washington County Sheriff’s deputies cite and arrest Hispanic persons more than White persons at a rate that is considered statistically significant. However, when comparing the results of stops between Black persons and White persons there is not a notable difference in deciding how the stop is handled. The rates of warnings, citations, and arrests are similar between White and Black individuals.
What does this mean? Washington County Sheriff’s Office learned they do need to examine why Hispanic individuals stopped by deputies are cited and arrested at a significantly higher rate than their White counterparts.
The CJC wrote, “Washington County Sheriff’s Office was the sole agency for which a disparity was found for a combination of citations and arrests.”
Other agencies showed disparities in certain areas such as arrest of one group or searches of another. Washington County was the only agency that both cited and arrested any one group more than the comparable White group.
The current sheriff opined that this disparity is likely due to the barriers for some Hispanics in licensing and insurance and the importance placed on enforcement action for unlicensed, suspended, and uninsured drivers. Although this may seem a logical explanation at face value, Washington County Sheriff’s Office allows deputy discretion, or choice, in the enforcement action they take in these cases.
Oregon State Police had similar results, but if we compare Washington County Sheriff’s Office to Oregon State Police we can clearly see how deputy discretion comes into play. The Oregon State Police have a specific policy removing discretion in suspended driving cases. The policy states, “A person who commits any of the following traffic offenses will be cited or arrested. 5. Driving while suspended or revoked.”
In clear cases with no discretion as provided by this policy, a disparate outcome could be explained by barriers to licensing disproportionately impacting specific racial and ethnic populations. But Washington County deputies do have and exercise choice. I have personally seen a wide exercise of discretion in the enforcement action taken in these cases.
We must critically examine and identify all the reasons underlying why our deputies choose harsher outcomes for Hispanic individuals than their similarly situated White counterparts. We cannot dismiss these results which clearly demonstrate what happens when our deputies exercise choice.
This data is an opportunity for our sheriff’s office to work toward recognizing what citizens have been reporting and to take responsibility for making change that will reflect the outcome that I am confident we wish to have—equitable treatment of all of our citizens under the law.
|Thank you for reading,|
Red Wortham for Sheriff|
PO Box 1623
Hillsboro, Oregon 97123
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