AFRICANGLOBE – Police stop and search African-Americans at a far higher rate than other racial groups in Oakland, according to a police report released Monday that has renewed concerns about racial profiling in the city.
African-Americans, who compose 28 percent of Oakland’s population, accounted for 62 percent of police stops from last April to November, the report found. The figures also showed that stops of African-Americans were more likely to result in felony arrests.
However, while African-Americans were far more likely to be searched by police upon being stopped, officers were no more likely to recover contraband from searching African-Americans than members of other racial groups.
Latinos accounted for 17 percent of police stops, Whites accounted for 12 percent, Asians 6 percent and “others” 3 percent.
Monday’s report had been sought for years by the police department’s federal overseer, Robert Warshaw. Preventing racial profiling was one of dozens of reform tasks the police department agreed to undertake more than a decade ago in the aftermath of the Riders police scandal, which included allegations of brutality and framing drug suspects.
City leaders, cautioned that the report needed further analysis and did not necessarily demonstrate that police were unfairly targeting African-Americans. Several outside police experts informed of the findings pointed to the 14 percent felony arrest rate for African-Americans who were stopped as an indication that police were not profiling.
Interim Chief Sean Whent said he wasn’t surprised by the figures given the department’s focus on fighting crime in the most violent sections of the city. He said the department would not make it a goal to stop fewer African-Americans.
“We want to focus on the people committing most of the crime whoever that may be regardless of race,” he said.
Prior attempts to generate the report had been compromised by technology failures that resulted in faulty data, officials said. The city has hired an expert to go over the data and is scheduling additional training for officers. Moving forward, police will be issuing similar reports twice a year, Mayor Jean Quan said.
“We wish we had more conclusions,” the mayor said. “This is really the first step.”
John Burris, an attorney who had pressed for Monday’s report, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the disproportionate number of African-Americans getting stopped.
“In the African-American community there was always a belief that they were being stopped without reasonable suspicion and that their cars were being searched,” he said.
Burris said he was especially troubled that African-Americans were more likely to be searched than other races even though the searches didn’t turn up more evidence.
“That goes to the question of whether the initial stops themselves were legitimate,” he said.
Burris said police should dig deeper to see if any particular officers or units were more likely to stop African-Americans or whether the stops were occurring in a specific section of the city.
The report did not include data on the percentage of crime suspects described to police as African-Americans. Separate Oakland police records show that from 2007 through 2011, about 70 percent of those arrested were African-American. Last year, police said 90 percent of robbery suspects were described as African-American.
Sam Walker, an emeritus professor in the criminal justice department at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who has reviewed stop-and-frisk police tactics in New York City, said Oakland police stops were far more likely to result in arrests or the confiscation of a weapon.
In New York City, there was little evidence of criminal activity to justify the police stops, he said. “In Oakland, it’s a very different picture.”
Franklin Zimring, a criminologist and professor at Berkeley Law School, pointed to the data showing that 14 percent of police stops involving African-Americans resulted in felony arrests, compared to 7 percent for Latinos, 6 percent of Asians and 5 percent of Whites.
“In terms of conventional mathematics, that is the opposite of racial profiling,” he said.
While traffic issues were the most common reason people were stopped by police, Black-Americans were far more likely to be stopped on the basis of “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” than members of other racial groups.
Black-Americans stopped by police were searched 42 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent for Latinos and 17 percent for Whites and Asians. Yet, those searches resulted in the recovery of contraband 27 percent of the time for African-Americans and Latinos, 28 percent of the time for Whites and 25 percent of the time for Asians.