PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Data released by the police bureau in Portland, Oregon, shows Black people were much more likely to be stopped by police in 2019 than people in other racial groups despite being a small part of the city’s population.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that of the 33,035 vehicle stops Portland police made in 2019, 18% were for Black drivers and 65% were for white drivers. White people make up 75.1% of the population, while Black people make up 5.8%.
The discrepancy is greater for nonmoving violation stops, a category for which the report says officers have more room for discretionary judgment. Black people accounted for 22.6% of those stops compared to 62% for white people.
“It’s a very difficult situation to explain because the numbers are the numbers,” said Police Chief Chuck Lovell, adding this year’s data reflects an improvement in many ways. “But there’s a context to those numbers too that I think is worthwhile to understand.”
Lovell said that this is the first year African Americans were not stopped at a disparate rate, a calculation based on a “disparity index” the bureau uses to estimate expected values.
Rather than relying simply on census data, the bureau uses a complicated set of benchmarks to determine what outcomes they would expect to see in their stop data. The traffic division uses the demographics of people involved in injury-collisions, while the patrol division bases their benchmark on crime victimization data.
The police bureau’s methodology might have some merit if there were a large Black population that commuted into Portland everyday, changing the city’s demographics for certain hours of the day, according to Elliott Young, a professor at Lewis & Clark College and the co-chair of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing.
“What does crime victimization data have to do with the number of drivers in the community?” asked Young. “(PPB) are simply fishing for benchmarks to justify disproportionate policing of Black people.”
Taken in its entirety, Young said the report paints a picture of a police bureau and a community that is moving in the wrong direction.
“Blanket over policing of people leads ultimately to mass incarceration,” he said. “And I think that’s something that we should be moving away from by stopping indiscriminate stops of both pedestrians and of people in cars.”