An analysis of traffic stop data found that Portland police searched African Americans at more than twice the rate of white motorists and pedestrians during a 12-month period ending in June. During the same period, Portland officers also arrested black people at higher rates than whites.
Those were the key takeaway of the state’s first-ever look at detailed demographic data collected by Oregon police agencies. The report was prepared by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, a state agency that serves as a clearinghouse for criminal justice statistics.
It is the latest study to underscore stark disparities in the treatment of black people by Oregon’s law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system.
The commission’s work comes on the heels of research released last week that found black and Latino people are overrepresented in nearly every stage of Multnomah County’s adult criminal justice system. Researchers found that the racial disparity in arrests has grown since 2014.
A study done by the criminal justice commission in 2016 found that African Americans in Oregon were convicted of felony drug possession at more than double the rate of whites in 2015, a disparity that played out across methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine cases statewide.
The commission’s latest work stems from 2017 legislation that requires police in Oregon to record the age, race, sex and other detailed information during routine pedestrian and traffic stops.
By 2021, every police agency will be required to submit the data; the state is phasing in the requirement, starting with Oregon’s 12 largest police organizations. Those agencies are on the Interstate 5 corridor and the Oregon State Police.
The commission issued an executive summary of its findings on Sunday. The full report will be made public Monday.
Oregon joins an estimated 40 states in collecting and analyzing demographic data from traffic stops. The requirement was part of a law that reduced criminal charges for most first-time drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
Ken Sanchagrin, research director for the commission, said states typically publish a basic racial and ethnic breakdown of traffic stops compared with census data for that state.
Oregon, he said, dug deeper into a dozen agencies’ nearly 400,000 traffic and pedestrian stops between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019. Analysts examined three aspects of each encounter: a racial breakdown of officers’ initial decisions to stop someone; whether those stops resulted in a citation, search or arrest; and whether they resulted in a seizure of contraband, like drugs.
The commission found racial or ethnic disparities in the citation, search or arrest data submitted by seven other police agencies. In Beaverton, Hillsboro, Salem and the sheriff’s offices in Marion and Washington counties, Latino people received disparate treatment compared to white motorists or pedestrians. In the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the study found disparate treatment of black people.
Both ethnic and racial disparities also were identified in traffic and pedestrian stop data submitted by the Oregon State Police.
In all of those agencies, analysts identified disparities for either citations, searches or arrests
Only Portland police showed differences across the categories in the analysis, said Sanchagrin. Portland stood out for the disparate percentage of black people who were subjected to a search as well as arrest – differences analysts described in the executive summary as “robust.”
Portland police last week released its own the data from the study. Chief Danielle Outlaw in a statement said the analyses “help us to realize that overrepresentation of certain races continues to exist in the criminal justice system and in our stops. The real question is why.
“We recognize that data demonstrating overrepresentation by race in stops, arrests and other areas in the criminal justice system creates distrust and fear within the community,” said Outlaw. “It is time we move beyond reporting out on the data and into implementation of intentional strategies in an effort to create meaningful change, when appropriate.”
The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police issued a joint statement in response to the overview of the findings, saying both organizations supported the legislation that led to the data collection effort.
“Our law enforcement leaders in Oregon continue to make equity in policing a priority and we are committed to addressing any disparities that are identified in the report,” the statement said.
The law doesn’t mandate training or intervention for police departments with disparities in their traffic and pedestrian stops. It says only that the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training may provide advice or training to those agencies.
Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, which advocates for criminal justice reform, said the disparities raised in the commission’s analysis are longstanding, well known and the result of “structural racism.” He said the latest findings echo previous studies, which all point to the same unequal treatment people of color experience in the criminal justice system.
“The responses that we get from our local and state leaders is muddled, passive and I think ignores the urgency of the issue or doesn’t respond accordingly to the damage that it is doing to our communities.”
“There is a lot of interesting information here as far as the data and what it demonstrates, but my hope is that we don’t get into a conversation about pulling apart the data and overanalyzing the nuances of it” instead of holding leaders accountable for implementing meaningful policy changes that reverse the trend, he said.
“Again,” he said, “it is phenomenal the burden that is put on people of color and civil rights advocates to continue to show that this is a reality.”
— Noelle Crombie