Oregon Traffic Stop Data Shows Largest Disparity At Portland, Hillsboro Police

Dec 2, 2019
Originally published on December 2, 2019 3:33 pm

Among most of the largest law enforcement agencies in Oregon, there was little evidence of racial or ethnic disparity for drivers who faced traffic stops by police, according to a first-of-its-kind state report.

However, the report did find the Portland Police Bureau and the Hillsboro Police Department had some of the most significant issues. Those departments had the largest disparities with how they treated black and Hispanic drivers after a traffic stop occurred, according to the report. 

There were also smaller disparities with how Oregon State Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the Salem Police Department, and the Marion County Sheriff's Office cited Hispanic drivers, the report found. Beaverton police searched and arrested Hispanic drivers at a slightly more than expected rate, the report found.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and and Oregon State Police also cited black drivers more than expected.

"The takeaway is somewhat of a mixed bag," said Ken Sanchagrin, deputy director for the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which authored the report. "It is good news for many of our law enforcement agencies that a lot of the work that they're doing is not, from our data prospective, disparate in its application."

The Criminal Justice Commission analyzed more than 396,000 stops across 12 police departments and sheriff's offices between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019. The agencies included most of the Portland metro area's law enforcement, as well as the Medford Police Department.

"What we're able to look at is for systematic, agency-wide disparities," Sanchagrin told OPB. "We're not able to test for individual instances of discrimination. We're not able to look at individual cases. So, we can't really discount an individual's personal experience with discrimination in the past."

Oregon lawmakers received the the full report Monday. 

"The data demonstrates an alarming issue," said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "Communities of color are disproportionally impacted by our criminal justice system, starting at the very first encounter with law enforcement. This is an issue that must be addressed head on by the Legislature."

Speaking on OPB's Think Out Loud on Monday, Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said people should not be surprised by the report.

"This is confirmation of the racism that we've seen for decades here," he said. "It's the old, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it's a duck. This is institutional racism. There's no other way to describe it."

While the commission didn't find there were disparities behind initial stops, it did find the most significant issues in Portland and Hillsboro after a traffic stop occurred.

The Portland Police Bureau searched black drivers at twice the predicted rate, according to the report. After a traffic stop, 11% of black drivers faced a search, but the report predicted the rate should be 4.8%.

Predicted rates are based on comparing similar drivers' characteristics, such as gender, age, reason for the stop and time of day. The only variable is race or ethnicity.

PPB declined an interview request. Instead, it referenced stop data it published Nov. 25, acknowledging the search disparity for black drivers.

"It is important for us to continue to dig deeper into the context of the data and identify opportunities to improve the service we provide," PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw said in the Nov. 25 release.

The Hillsboro Police Department also cited Hispanic drivers notably higher than the report's predicted rate. According to the report, Hillsboro Police cited 27.6% of Hispanic drivers after a traffic stop. The report's predicted rate for those drivers was closer to 20.2%.

"We've just received this report, and we are digesting and analyzing its contents," said Hillsboro Police Sgt. Eric Bunday. "We're grateful for objective data and feedback, and we'll be looking at this in the coming days and deciding what changes, if any, are needed to best serve our community."

In a joint statement, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association said their members will work to ensure equity and professionalism in policing across the state.

"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," Kevin Campbell, executive director of the OACP, and Jason Myers, executive director of OSSA, wrote in a statement.

This report is the first of several planned by the Criminal Justice Commission. By 2021, the CJC's report will include stop data from every law enforcement agency in the state and will be published annually.

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