Reuters – Black drivers in California arrested more often for unpaid tickets: study

Original article can be found in Reuters.

Written by Curtis Skinner

Black drivers in California are far more likely than their white counterparts to face arrest for unpaid traffic tickets or driving with a suspended license, according to a study by a civil rights coalition released on Monday.

The findings come amid a national conversation around racial discrimination in policing sparked in the summer of 2014 over high-profile police killings of unarmed black men.

The report found a direct correlation between both race and poverty and driver’s license suspensions stemming from failure to pay a ticket or appear in court.

“Our new data shows statistically significant racial and socioeconomic disparities,” said the group, Back on the Road California.

In San Francisco, African-Americans made up 6 percent of the population, but accounted for 49 percent of the arrests for failure to pay fines or appear in court, the study found.

In Los Angeles County, the data showed black people comprised 9 percent of the population but nearly a third of those arrested for driving with suspended licenses. The group was unable to secure comparable data from the Los Angeles Police Department.

In both locations, Latinos were arrested at rates slightly higher than their share of the population, but roughly double that of whites, who were underrepresented in arrests, the study showed.

Representatives for the police and sheriff’s departments for San Francisco and Los Angeles could not be immediately reached for comment.

The data was compiled from records spanning 2013 to 2015 from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, 15 police and sheriff’s departments and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The group called for a change in policy that would limit suspension of licenses to instances of public safety, not failing to pay fines.

“Individuals who cannot afford to pay an infraction citation are being arrested, jailed, and prosecuted, and are losing their licenses and their livelihoods,” the group said.

Data from the state’s largest cities showed black and Latino drivers are pulled over and searched more often than white drivers, a discrepancy the report attributed to racial bias in policing.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s watchdog group in December called for a review of how the department vets bias complaints after the police failed to substantiate even one of more than 1,300 complaints it received over two years, the Los Angeles Times wrote.

In San Francisco, 19 officers were found exchanging racist or homophobic text messages, prompting a review of hundreds of potentially compromised criminal cases.