Study finds racial bias in Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office traffic stops

Jun 18, 2018, 10:40 AM | Updated: Jun 21, 2018, 1:55 pm
(Facebook photo)...
(Facebook photo)
(Facebook photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona State University study for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office indicated there may be some racial bias in traffic stops.

A ratio was used in the study to determine if officers stopped drivers of different ethnicity at a disproportionate rate to the average officer in the district.

The study found that more than 23 percent of deputies give citations to Hispanic drivers twice as often as peers within their district.

Additionally, about 37.3 percent of deputies gave citations to African-American drivers more than twice as often as other officers in their district.

About 5 percent of deputies gave citations to white drivers at this rate.

In a statement, MCSO acknowledged some racial bias.

“There is still a disparity in post-stop outcomes between races/ethnicities, including Latinos, as well as some inconsistent behavioral patterns by some deputies,” it said.

However, it also said the data can’t determine individual police bias based alone; further context is necessary in the background of specific stops.

“The report provides information regarding practices by deputies beyond that of their peer group, without the information necessary to establish the intent or unique factors leading to the pattern of practice,” the statement said.

“It is then incumbent on MCSO to objectively further the inquiry.”

White drivers were given 65.3 percent of all citations in 2017. Hispanics received 23.6 percent and African-American drivers received 7.7 percent.

With that said, about 4,000 fewer citations were given out in 2017 than 2016. Hispanics received 925 fewer citations, African-American drivers 333 fewer and white drivers were cited 2,685 fewer times.

The ratios are similar between years: in 2016, white drivers received 65.1 percent of citations, Hispanics 23.3 percent and African-Americans 7.8 percent.

Additionally, the average length of stop dramatically decreased over the last two years.

In 2016, the average stop for a white driver lasted 18.92 minutes. Stops involving a Hispanic driver lasted 21.97 on average, and those with African-American drivers lasted an average of 23.89 minutes.

In 2017, that decreased to 12.78 for white drivers, 15.87 for Hispanics and 16.134 for black drivers.

“Sheriff Penzone takes seriously the findings in this report that MCSO’s traffic enforcement activity has led to different outcomes for different racial/ethnic groups,” the statement said.

“Yet, it would be inaccurate and unfair for anyone to classify an entire organization based on a review of behaviors by only some of its members.”

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Study finds racial bias in Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office traffic stops