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Traffic Stops Disproportionately Hit Black Motorists in California

Compared with White motorists, Black drivers in California are almost five times more likely to be pulled over by sheriffs for traffic violations, according to a new report on racial profiling across the state. Records from the county sheriff’s departments of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Riverside show that Black Californians were disproportionately stopped across those regions in 2019, especially for minor infractions, The Guardian reports. Obtained by advocacy groups Catalyst California and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the state data also suggested that instead of responding to calls for help, sheriff patrols spend significantly more time conducting proactive traffic stops. The racial disparities appeared most severe in Sacramento, the state capital, where sheriff’s deputies pulled over Black drivers at a rate 4.7 times more than they stopped white drivers. The inequities appear more pronounced when they concern stops for equipment violations and administrative issues, such as broken tail lights or outdated registration.

The authors of the report, Reimagining Community Safety in California, also estimated the time sheriff’s deputies spent on stops. Patrol units in three counties appeared to spend most of their time on stops that officers initiated compared with stops or contacts with the public in response to calls for help, such as 911 emergencies. In addition to exposing racial disparities in who gets stopped, the data also suggest that some departments prioritize stops that don’t support public safety. Stops for minor violations are often used as a pretext to investigate other matters or conduct searches that can have devastating consequences. Stops can cause immense harm, including subjecting people to costly tickets that become insurmountable debts, arrest, and in some cases physical or lethal force “The vast amount of time that law enforcement is out on patrol is counterproductive to community safety,” said Chauncee Smith of Catalyst California, co-author of the report. Citing research showing that higher rates of traffic stops don’t correspond to reduced car crash deaths, the authors argue that governments should limit stops for minor violations and other “pretextual stops,” remove armed officers from traffic enforcement, and reinvest police funds in community health and safety programs and violence intervention.


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