A new report shows that racial profiling continues to be a problem for the Austin Police Department, despite ongoing efforts to address disparities in stops, searches and arrests.
APD motor vehicle stop data from 2019 reveals that Black people are still the most overrepresented racial or ethnic group being stopped by police in Austin.
According to the report, which was jointly published by the city's office of police oversight, office of innovation and equity office on Monday, Black people make up 8% of Austin's voting age population but experienced 14% of motor vehicle stops, 25% of stops resulting in searchers and 25% of stops resulting in arrests.
Latino residents were also overrepresented in motor vehicle stops, searches and arrests compared to their share of the local population, while Asian and white residents were underrepresented.
"APD's data continues to show that disproportionality in traffic stops exists and adversely impacts Black and Brown community members," OPO Director Farah Muscadin said in a statement.
The data also revealed geographic disparities in warnings, field observations and arrests. Warnings and field observations were most concentrated on the west side of Austin, while arrests were most concentrated on the east side.
Although there were some modest improvements since 2018, including a 1% decline in the overrepresentation of Black people in motor vehicle stops, other gaps widened.
For example, Black people were three times more likely to be searched than white people and the only racial or ethnic groups to receive more high-discretion searches than low-discretion searches.
High-discretion searches can only be conducted when there is consent, probable cause or contraband present, according to the report. Low-discretion searches, on the other hand, occur when policy requires an officer to conduct a search, such as due to an arrest or a vehicle being towed.
Last year, Black people received 58% of high-discretion searches compared to 42% of low-discretion searches. This disparity grew nearly 8% since 2018.
APD Chief Brian Manley said that his department is working toward reducing these disparities.
"Although it is a slight improvement, there is an improvement in some areas," he said at a public safety committee meeting on Monday. "I think we're headed in the right direction."
The report also included recommendations for how APD can ensure equity in policing.
Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks said the department needs to acknowledge that their efforts to eliminate racial disparities have not worked, engage the community in creating a plan to do better, commit to achieving the benchmarks set out in that plan and improve how it trains officers.
"This report has established firmly how systemic racism manifests itself in policing and I hope it will serve as a catalyst for our community and city leaders to respond courageously in the pursuit of the fair administration of justice for our city," Oaks said in a statement.
The report analyzes data from 2019, before this year's protests against police violence and racism, and its publication follows myriad efforts to reform police.
Last December, after an anonymous complaint was filed with the OPO accusing an assistant police chief of using racist epithets and derogatory language, Austin City Council ordered a third-party investigation of APD's training, recruiting and promotion practices; use of force incident reports; and interactions with the public, including searches, arrests and citations.
More recently, council voted in August to cut approximately $20 million—or about 5%—of APD's budget and set aside an additional $130 million into two transitional funds, which allowed several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials decide which ones to move out from under police oversight.
Members also canceled three planned cadet classes, citing concerns about the training academy's curriculum.
Manley said the budget cuts and canceled cadet classes have led to staffing shortages at the Monday meeting.
APD currently has 1,809 sworn officers and 45 vacancies. In the last couple of months, its attrition rate has spiked to 15%, about double what the department typically sees from retirements, resignations and terminations, he said.
Without any upcoming cadet classes, and assuming this attrition rate continues at its current level, Manley predicts the department will see an increasing number of vacancies—and related challenges staffing its patrol positions.
"We're doing what we can with what we have," he said.
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Eighty-seven providers in Travis County will receive a total of 75,540 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the week of March 8 as part of the 13th weekly allocation, a nearly 62% increase compared to last week's. The significant increase is largely due to inclusion of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received an emergency use authorization from the FDA last weekend.
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