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UTEP Analysis of San Jose Police Department Stop Data Focuses on Racial Disparities

A recent study by the Center for Law and Human Behavior (CLHB) at The University of Texas at El Paso is helping to address and reduce racial disparities in traffic and pedestrian stops by the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) in San Jose, California.

UTEP conducted a comprehensive analysis of 83,381 reports of limited detention actions, or traffic and pedestrian stops, by the SJPD from September 2013 through March 2016.

While race did influence how often people were stopped and questioned by police, the data analysis revealed fewer racial disparities than expected for a community as diverse as San Jose.

“This was an issue of community concern in the city of San Jose, which prompted the police department to reach out to the Center for Law and Human Behavior at UTEP to analyze their data,” said Michael R. Smith, the center’s executive director and the study’s lead researcher. “We did not uncover large or widespread disparities or anything to suggest that there’s a widespread cultural problem in the San Jose Police Department.”

Smith, a nationally recognized expert on racial profiling, has previously participated in traffic stop data analysis in Los Angeles, California; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and with state highway patrol agencies in Washington and Arizona. He also contributed to a traffic stop and use of force analysis done by the United States Department of Justice in San Francisco.

For the San Jose study, Smith collaborated with Jeff Rojek, Ph.D., the CLHB’s associate director; Robert Tillyer, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio; and Caleb Lloyd, a former UTEP psychology assistant professor, to examine the correlation between individuals’ race/ethnicity and traffic/pedestrian stop outcomes.

As part of the report, researchers recommended policies, practices and training to reduce any potential police bias, such as identifying and quickly addressing racially disparate stop patterns by individual officers. The report noted that racial disparities in stops often are driven by the practice of a relatively small number of officers in the department.

Researchers also suggested that the department adopt evidence-based training to improve police-citizen interactions and reduce the influence of discriminatory factors, such as race and ethnicity, in traffic and pedestrian stops.

“We’ve already made a deep commitment to the high standards for 21st century policing and to fostering a departmental culture where crime reduction and community trust go hand in hand,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia in a press release issued by the SJPD. “This study is one of many initiatives our police department has undertaken to earn that trust and achieve better community safety. The first step in any effort to improve is self-assessment, and this report provides a critical benchmark of existing stop practices that will help us make more progress.”

Starting in February 2016, researchers began reviewing and auditing all of the department’s stop data. They also conducted focus groups and officer ride alongs.

According to vehicle stop findings, black citizens were nine times more likely and Hispanic citizens were 3.4 times more likely to experience a field interview following a vehicle stop as compared to white citizens. But black citizens were less likely to be issued a traffic citation compared to white citizens.

The study also found that Hispanic citizens were 2.4 times more likely than white citizens to be handcuffed during a pedestrian stop, but less likely than white citizens to have a police report written about it.

Chief Garcia and the UTEP research team presented the study’s findings and recommendations to the San Jose City Council on Feb. 28, 2017.

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