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Profiling in Portland: New Reports Show Same Disparities, More Strained Statistical Analysis

hree stops data reports published by the Portland Police covering the third quarter of 2020, all of 2019, and just the activities of the Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) in 2019 show there are still disproportionate stops and searches of Black Portlanders.

An uncritical person reading the reports in depth might disagree, because of the Bureau's arbitrary benchmarks of what "disproportionate" means. For example, they claim too many Black people image of Nov 4, 2020, Willamette Week article Who Gets Pulled 
Over in Trafficfrom Vancouver and Gresham drive into Portland for census numbers to matter, and expand on the statistical gymnastics Portland Copwatch has pointed out in the past (PPR #79, for example).

The numbers, briefly, show that in a city with a 6% African American population, 15% of both traffic and pedestrian stops in Q3 2020 and 17% (traffic) and 16% (pedestrian) in 2019 were of Black people. Fifty-two percent of people stopped by the GVRT-- the new name given to the Gang Enforcement Team (GET) when its mission allegedly broadened in late 2018-- were Black. The separate report on GVRT's activities emphasizes that most of their stops were made within a quarter of a mile of a shooting, but that doesn't mean they were all justifiable, nor does it mean they were not the result of bias. The GET's stop numbers were slightly higher in the previous breakout released for 2017, 59% (PPR #74); the Bureau never released a breakout for 2018.

Though the PPB might get away with using the percentage of African American drivers involved in auto accidents (11%) as a metric for traffic stops, that does not explain why the stops figures come in 0.3 to 0.5 times higher. If the City wants the community to believe commuters are causing the difference, they must analyze the race and home city of the drivers stopped. Since the officers likely run people's drivers licenses whether or not they end up issuing a citation, this should be easy to do-- but doing so would probably prove there's bias going on. To justify the stops by GVRT and non-traffic officers, they use the benchmark of crime victimization, which has no correlation to why a person would get pulled over in a car. By using these measures, the disproportionate rate for image of GVRT supplemental report 2019 
graphtraffic stops is shown as 1.26 times the norm and the search rate for the GVRT is 1.62, but neither qualifies as disparate because the Bureau uses a threshold of 2.0. As noted by Portland Committee for Community Engaged Policing co-chair Elliott Young, "[PPB is] simply fishing for benchmarks to justify disproportionate policing of Black people" (OPB, November 27).

The Bureau works so hard to minimize the impact of the numbers that the stop data don't appear until page 18 of the 2019 annual report. A few exceptions to PPB's deflection of reality: they acknowledge (1) African Americans stopped by the GVRT were more likely to be asked to consent to a search (30% of the time, vs. 14% for white people they stopped), and (2) that in general Black people are less likely to refuse to be searched (12% of the time vs. 22% of white people refusing) because of "an equity imbalance that can be traced back to systemic issues of race and power in the criminal justice system and law enforcement." As usual, the frequency with which contraband is found on the oversearched Black drivers was lower than their white counterparts, now about 90% as often (up from 80% several years ago).

To their credit, using crash data analysis, the Traffic Division comes out looking good with an 11%- 13% stop rate for African Americans, while patrol and other officers' rate is 21-22% But as Young also said, "It is revealing that when it comes to explaining their pedestrian stop data, the Bureau doesn't rely on the same benchmarks." The PPB said it was too complicated to run a disparity analysis for pedestrian stops, further confirming the perception that they don't want to admit what is going on. Interestingly, Asian American Portlanders pass the 2.0 threshold for disparity in pedestrian searches-- but that reflects only four of 13 people stopped in 2019, whereas 178 African Americans were stopped and 35 (20%) were subjected to searches garnering a 1.57 on the disparity scale, yet not causing any alarm in the Bureau.

The various reports can be found on the PPB's website at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/65520.

  People's Police Report

January, 2021
Also in PPR #82

100+ Days of Protests and Police Violence
  Officer Indicted for On-Duty Assault with Vehicle
Portland Out of Compliance with DOJ Agreement
Oversight Board Continues; New System Voted In
No PPB Shootings but Two Incidents in Washington
  State Deadly Force Incidents Pass Average Despite Pandemic
Outside Report Knocks '18 Shooting of Black Man
• New Profililng Reports Show Same Disparities
Houseless Community Faces Winter, COVID, Sweeps
Terror Task Force: Community Wants Full Withdrawal
Training Council Analyzes Use of Force
 • Second Round of Police Budget Cuts Scuttled
 • Police Contract Talks to Restart in January
 • Lawsuits Total Nearly $16 M in 28 Years
 • New "Brady Rule" Policy and Other Policies Posted
Rapping Back #82

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

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