Data on Police Stops Confirms Continuing Racial Disparities

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Legislators are expected to introduce bills in the upcoming session to ban pretextual stops and consent searches. Photo Credit: Dusanpetkovic1 / Adobestock

Black teenagers ages 15 to 17 are six times more likely to be searched by police compared with their white counterparts, according to a report from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board released this week.

The board crunched the numbers from more than 3 million traffic and pedestrian stops done in 2021 by 58 police agencies.

Melanie Ochoa, outgoing vice chair of the board and the director of police practices for the ACLU of Southern California, said about 94% of police stops were self-initiated, not in response to a call for service. And 87% of those are traffic stops.

“It’s a low-hanging fruit,” Ochoa contended. “It’s easy to find someone who is potentially committing a traffic violation, when it’s actually intended to do more basic searches without any evidence of other criminal activity being present at the time.”

The data showed Black people were stopped at more than twice their percentage in the population, and Latinx people at 7% more, whereas white people were stopped at 4% less than their population level. The report recommended police agencies cease making what are called “pre-textual” stops, where there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity.

Ochoa added research shows contact with law enforcement can be traumatic.

“Interacting with officers correlates with higher distress, anxiety, trauma, depression, increased risk of suicidal ideation, paranoia, post-traumatic stress and trauma-induced sleep deprivation, particularly for youth,” Ochoa explained.

The Los Angeles Police Department revised its policies last year to reduce the number of pretextual stops. The report also recommended police agencies move to ban so-called consent searches, and instead limit searches to cases where there is probable cause.