MCSO traffic stop report: No disparities between Hispanic and white drivers for first time

Jul 2, 2024, 10:00 AM | Updated: 6:18 pm

File phot of a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office cruiser. MCSO has conducted Traffic Study Annual ...

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has conducted Traffic Study Annual Reports since 2014 under court orders. (X File Photo/@mcsoaz)

(X File Photo/@mcsoaz)

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office made progress last year in its court-ordered efforts to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops, according to a report released last week.

MCSO’s Traffic Study Annual Report analyzes racial disparities in stop length, citation rate, search rate, arrest rate and seizures following a search. The traffic studies have been conducted under court orders since 2014.

For the first time, the 2023 report showed no statistically significant outcome disparities between Hispanic drivers and white drivers. In addition, there were no disparities between Black drivers and white drivers.

The previous year’s report showed stops involving Black drivers lasted an average of 43 seconds longer than stops involving white drivers, while stops involving Hispanic drivers were 29 second longer.

Also, Hispanic drivers were 3.7% more likely to be cited than white drivers and 0.7% more likely to be searched in 2022, but those disparities were gone in 2023.

“The findings in this report are proof of the hard work our staff continues to deliver every day to provide professional services to our community,” Sheriff Russ Skinner said in a press release Friday.

Former Sheriff Paul Penzone was in office during the time covered by the latest Traffic Study Annual Report.

What racial disparities exist in 2023 MCSO traffic stop report?

The 2023 results weren’t perfect. The new report shows two disparities in traffic stop data for all minorities combined (Hispanic, Black, Asian and Native American drivers) when compared to white drivers. Stops involving minorities lasted 19 seconds longer and were 2.5% more likely to result in a citation, according to the report.

“MCSO will continue to utilize this annual report, along with quarterly and monthly reports, to monitor enforcement activities, policies and operational processes,” Skinner said. “We are committed to conducting ongoing training and community outreach to better equip our staff providing key services in our county and, if necessary and as warranted, intervention across all the benchmarks.”

The 2023 findings regarding Hispanic drivers are particularly significant because that was the plaintiffs’ class that successfully sued MCSO in what’s known as the Melendres lawsuit, which was orginally filed in 2007 in response to controversial sweeps under longtime Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Why does MCSO have to do annual traffic reports?

A federal judge ruled after a 2012 trial that MCSO violated the rights of Hispanic drivers by engaging in racial profiling and conducting unlawful traffic stops. Compliance orders were issued in 2013.

MCSO reached 100% compliance with one phase of the court orders in March of this year by properly documenting all seized evidence or contraband on vehicle stop contact forms.

The oversight has spanned the tenures of three sheriffs, from Arpaio to Penzone to Skinner, who was appointed to the role earlier this year after Penzone resigned.

Arpaio was convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt in July 2017 for defying court orders in the case, but then-President Donald Trump pardoned him two months later. Arpaio was already out of office by then, having lost to Penzone in the 2016 election to end his 24-year run as sheriff.

The Melendres case reportedly has cost metro Phoenix taxpayers more than a quarter-billion dollars.

Much of the spending went toward hiring employees to help meet the court’s requirements and a separate staff who work on behalf of the court to monitor compliance.

City of Phoenix officials have cited the Melendres aftermath as a reason to resist a consent decree with the Department of Justice. A yearslong DOJ investigation determined the Phoenix Police Department engaged in patterns of civil rights violations, but the consequences haven’t yet been determined.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MCSO traffic stop report: No disparities between Hispanic and white drivers for first time