Portland Police Traffic Stops Disproportionately Involve African Americans, Report Finds

Maxine Bernstein, Oregon Live, February 19, 2014

Traffic stops of African Americans over five months in 2011 accounted for 11.8 percent of all Portland police traffic stops, a disproportionately high rate considering they make up about 6 percent of the city’s population age 16 and over.

“This is the only racial/ethnic group in this analysis that is consistently stopped in greater proportion than their driving population would indicate,” bureau crime analyst Sgt. Greg Stewart wrote in the Portland Police Bureau report released Wednesday.

The disparity carried over to police stops of pedestrians. African Americans made up 19.5 percent of all pedestrian stops, also disproportionately high compared to their population in the city.

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African Americans were less likely to be pulled over for a major traffic violation than white motorists, yet more likely to be pulled over for an equipment violation, a license violation or for what was classified only as “other” violation, the report said.

Also, when African American, Hispanic and Native American motorists were stopped, they were more likely than whites to be searched by police. While 8.3 percent of African American motorists consented to a police search, for example, only 1.9 percent of white drivers agreed to a police search, the data showed.

Black motorists who were stopped were patted down for weapons 1.3 percent of the time, the report said. That compares to only 0.3 percent of the white motorists stopped who were patted down for weapons by police.

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Gang enforcement officers conducted searches more frequently than patrol officers. “The use of aggressive traffic enforcement as a tool to address gang violence may create racial disparities in stops and searches,” the report said.

The bureau’s analysis found that the number of patrol stops increase with the amount of crime and police calls for service in a neighborhood, and that enhanced patrols in areas of higher crime can lead to “disparities in contact between police and communities of color.”

The bureau is working to develop an equity plan, increase diversity of its officers and have all officers receive training on institutional racism this year. About 60 command staff received the training in late 2012, and sergeants attended it last year.

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