Austin police use force more often in black and Hispanic regions, survey discovers

The Texas city is the first in the nation to go public with this kind of in-depth analysis showing clear racial disparities in police use of force

A new analysis has seen racial disparities in the police use of force across different Austin neighborhoods, even when controlling for neighborhood crime rates and income levels.

The new examine, which employed data released as part of a White House initiative launched last year, finds that the strongest predictor of the number of police use of force incidents in different neighborhoods is the crime rates in those neighborhoods.

But even controlling for crime rates, income and education levels, and rates of home ownership, black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Texas city still watch a slightly higher number of use of force incidents, the new analysis discovered. Every 1% increased number of the proportion of black residents in a neighborhood led to a 2.6% increase in use of force incidents, according to the analysis.

In a highly segregated city such as Austin, that increase actually looks much larger when you apply it to the neighborhood level. Virtually all the neighborhoods on the citys west side are lower than 5% black, while many on the east side are closer to 60% black. Using the reports findings, that could entail an increase in use of force of more than 140% from a typical white neighborhood to a typical black one after controlling for other variables. The use of force incidents measured included anything from use of a closed fist through employ of batons, pepper spray and tasers, all the way to deadly force.

The new outcomes line up with previous analyses that have found clear racial disparities in police use of force. The analysis does not appear specifically at racial disparities in fatal use of force, the most controversial area of research .

What it tells me is that we still have more work to do, said Art Acevedo, Austins police chief of nearly a decade. We have to continue to work in terms of our educate on implicit and explicit bias for our department.

But he said he believed that releasing the findings would help continue to build trust with the community, and that they would help the department improve in the long run.

You can be an ostrich as a leader, and inter your head in the sand, or you can be forward-thinking and be scanning the environment constantly for menaces or for opportunities to do better, Acevedo said.

Austin is the first city in the country to go public with this kind of in-depth analysis of use of force disparities, a step that the White House, researchers, and the citys police chief say they hope other departments will follow.

I cant say enough about Chief Acevedos willingness to set it all out there, said Roy Austin, a White House domestic policy adviser focused on urban affairs, justice and possibility. We need more chiefs to step up like Chief Acevedo has done and say, I have nothing to hide. Policing belongs to the community and we are going to show the community exactly what we are doing.

The Austin analysis was conducted independently by researchers from the Center for Policing Equity and the Urban Institute.

Black Americans are more likely to be subject to fatal and nonfatal utilize of police force than white Americans. The Protector long-term investigation on police killings, the Counted, has consistently found that black Americans are more than twice as likely than white Americans to be killed by the police .~ ATAGEND Whats less clear are the reasons behind this inequality, and what it would take to erase it.

Is the inequality purely based on community factors, such as crime levels or poverty? Is it driven by police department policies or individual police officer racial bias? Or does the inequality in use of force-out to be derived from dynamics between police and communities such as Americans of some races being more likely to flee from the police in confrontations, or police officer responding to greater enmity toward the police in some neighborhoods rather than others?

The report argues that the truth likely incorporates elements of each of these, but that only better data and analysis going to be able to reformers be more specific in determining where the fault line are.

Previous analyses, including a Harvard working paper released in July , procured racial disparities in non-fatal police use of force, even controlling for a variety of factors including police officers own descriptions of how compliant citizens were. The Harvard study find, in an in-depth analysis of Houston data, that black Americans were actually less likely , not more likely, than other Americans to be shot by the police, a controversial finding. Its not clear to what magnitude the results in Houston or nine other areas the study examined in less depth might be representative of national trends.

The racial disparities in Austins use of force are not direct evidence of racial prejudice, the analysts from the Center for Policing Equity and the Urban Institute concluded. But by controlling for community-level factors, the researchers said, they could demonstrate that police factors or factors driven by the police-community relationship must play some role.

Once again, we can say that crime is not sufficient to explain the racial gaps we insure for both black and Latinos in the driving force, said Phillip Atiba Goff, the leading researcher on the analysis.

The new analysis draw from two different initiatives exploring police use of force data: the White Houses Police Data Initiative, launched last year, which promotes departments to post public data about their use of force, and the National Justice Database, a National Science Foundation-funded effort to build a standardized national database about police use of force, which keeps its data private.

Austin is the first city in either of these efforts to agree to publicly release an in-depth analysis of its use of force data. Goff said the city-level study was designed to create a standardized model for other departments to analyze and then share their use of force data. Through the National Justice Database, departments can share data and have these analyses stimulated privately available to them. Whether departments choose to release the results of their analyses publicly is up to police leaders, Goff said.

These are scary questions to ask, he said. If Im a chief, I dont know how well my department is doing on these issues. I can reasonably worry, if the analyses disclose something that is disturbing to the community, Im kicking a hornets nest.

At the same time, he said, You cant fix a number of problems that you dont know you have.

Acevedo, the Austin chief, said: My cops will not be surprised by the fact that were participating in this. We will talk to them about the fact that there is a use of force gap, and our next step for us is that we continue to evaluate our training in terms of de-escalation.

The challenge with Austin being the only department so far to release this analysis so far, Acevedo said, was that theres no other points of reference.

Its not clear how Austins neighborhood use of force gaps might compare with other major cities. As a profession, were only good as the weakest department in the nation, Acevedo said. Were all a reflection of one another.

Unlike prior analyzes, this new report doesnt rely on the race of the individual citizens involved to draw its conclusions, but instead, looks at the demographics of the neighborhoods where the use of force incidents resulted. This, according to Goff, is the best way to understand how community-level factors such as crime, income and education might influence the disparate racial be applied in force.

Policing is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood profession, he said. Thats how its experienced.

The Austin neighborhood report also looked at traffic stops and found that black drivers of all ages were searched more frequently than white or Hispanic drivers. In addition, black drivers did not insure the same reductions in stops with age that black and Hispanic drivers experienced. The report concedes, however, that the findings are unable to control for drivers differential participation in illegal activity or exposure to police and cannot be taken by themselves as proof of bias in stops.

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