A study commissioned by the ACLU of 810,000 traffic stops by Los Angeles police has found that such arrests were racially motivated. Original studies of the data showed no such results. But a Yale professor “re-examined” the data, to conclude that “driving while black” and “driving while Hispanic” were current “crimes” in L.A.
The facts for this article, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article in eFluxMedia.com on 21 October, 2008. This writer has never heard of eFluxMedia, but based on the total lack of critical review, it is in the tank for the ACLU.
The article is on a study of racial aspects of arrests and frisks by the Los Angeles Police Department. The study was done by Professor Ian Ayres of Yale Law School as commissioned by the ACLU of Southern California. The conclusion of the article appears in its title, “LAPD Officers Driven By Racial Differences When Performing Arrests.”
According to the article, “Los Angeles police officers “see the world in black and white” because “African Americans and Hispanics were twice as likely to be ordered out of their vehicles than whites.”
This may be true, but by itself proves nothing. Anyone familiar with police procedures knows that an investigating officer orders people out of their cars only when he is about to make an arrest, or he has reason to believe that the driver or someone else in the car may represent a threat to his safety, or may be seeking to hide contraband. The first step of every officer in every traffic stop is to run the license plate against the data base to see if it is reported stolen, and to run the drivers license against the data base to see if it is valid or has any warrants outstanding. Either of these may result in the conclusion that one of these risk factors is present.
Unless this study adjusted for this variable risk and likelihood of arrest for African Americans and Hispanics, the beginning statistic is useless. For instance, a high proportion of Hispanics in Los Angeles are illegals who do not (so far) have California drivers licenses. This fact by itself is a significant crime, and may result in the officer ordering the occupants out of the vehicle.
The study also found that “although African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be frisked, officers were also less likely to find evidence during the searches.” Everyone who is about to be arrested is frisked. The purpose is to find and remove such items as weapons and hypodermic needles. Even casual watchers of TV know this; it does not take a Yale Law professor to know this fact. Therefore, if people of color are arrested more commonly than people of no color (to coin a phrase), they will also be frisked more commonly, regardless of what may be found in the course of that frisk.
No hard numbers appeared in this article, but it said that the “racial disparities seemed smaller when they involved African American officers.” Possibly this could be due to the fact that white officers are more likely to be shot and killed in L.A. traffic stops. than black officers, and therefore white officers have a higher justified caution in making a traffic stop.
The study was based on an examination of 810,000 traffic stops by LAPD officers from July, 2003, to June, 2004. The article states that, “At the time, there didn’t seem to be any racial disparities in LAPD officers’ behavior, however, while closely re-examining the data, Ayres found that in fact, these disparities existed.”
Ignore relevant variables, carefully define your categories, and the desired results can be teased out of any input statistics. Mark Twain put this in plain English when he wrote, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Twain illustrated that conclusion by pointing out that the number of murderers and Methodists in the Nebraska territory were rising at the same rate. That indicated that Methodists were most likely murderers.