Palo Alto to bring back traffic-enforcement team
Original post made
on May 17, 2013
After years of budget cuts and staff freezes, the Palo Alto Police Department is now experiencing an "early thaw" and looking forward to hiring more officers and restoring a motorcycle-riding team of traffic enforcers that was disbanded during the leaner times of yesteryear.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Friday, May 17, 2013, 12:34 AM
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2013 at 8:04 am
> As is often the case Mr. Martin cites information
> from which he draws conclusions or inferences
> but still can't prove his suspicion of hidden motives
The Palo Alto Police were charged, many years ago, with being "racists" in their traffic enforcement. These claims were brought before the City Council on a number of occasions. Those accusing the police were, for the most part, non-residents. As it turns out, about 66% of all traffic stops involved non-residents.
The police could not prove that they were not harassing minorities, and the minorities making the claims could not prove that the police were harassing them. So, the Palo Alto City Council directed the Police to begin keeping individual traffic stop records, which were to include race and sex, in order to provide hard data about police behavior.
Having watched the police being involved in traffic stops around town, I had never felt that they acted in any way other than professionally. However, the police have budgeted for about 16,000 traffic stops a yearso it made no sense to think that some officers might not be acting unprofessionally.
The Police periodically produced reports of the data which were incredibly LAME! They did not use any statistical approaches, nor did they tend to do quarter-by-quarter, year-by-year, comparisonsthat would have demonstrated changes in practices in traffic enforcement.
The City's so-called "Police Auditor" was requested to look at the data. This group clearly had no idea how to do any statistical, or data-modeling, so they spent a lot of time dancing around the problem, rather than doing the literature searches, or attempting to actually "prove" something, as I did. Their conclusion was that there was no "racism" exhibited by the police; they also recommended that the police continue collecting data.
My research suggested that "Black" drivers who were Palo Alto residents were likely to be (on average) stopped once every two years; whereas, "White" drivers who were Palo Alto residents were likely to be stopped (on average) about once every eight to ten years.
East Palo Alto drivers were also frequently stopped, far more so than Menlo Park, or Mountain View drivers. The data showed that, in fact, about 50% of those stopped were Palo Alto drivers.
As I attempted various models, I realized that there was data "missing" that, had it been present in the publicly-released datadata that could have helped to "recreate" each stop. From these "recreations", it would have been much easier to make inferences about those stops that might have been "pre-text", and those that were legitimate.
This issue of what data to collect has plagued police departments from around the country. Other researchers have come to the same conclusions. For the most part, few of the traffic stop data collection programs have proven that "racism" was at work in the departments collecting the data. On the other hand, few of the police departments have taken the time to do any meaningful data modeling with their collected data.
From looking at some of the datasets of other police departments, they collected more data than Palo Alto seems to haveat least from the released data. I make no claims that they have suppressed data, but anything is possible.
Menlo Park released some traffic stop data from about ten years ago. Although not a valid comparison with the 2009 data from Palo Alto, I noticed that the Palo Alto police were searching stopped drivers at about twice the rate of our neighboring city. Attempts to obtain recent data from Menlo Park were not productiveas the police officer in charge of the program did not respond to my requests for data. Interestingly, the same situation occurred when I contacted the San Jose Police Department, and the Alameda Sheriff's Department. So, I found that most local police departments did not want to talk about hard data associated with their traffic enforcement programs.
I came to the conclusions that without a similar program in effect in all the Bay Area cites/counties, that the data from the Palo Alto traffic stops, while informative, could in no way be definitive about any "racial profiling" that may, or may not, have been on-going at the time the data was collected. And as noted above, it became clear to me that the data was not sufficiently robust to be valuable enough to recreate stops and make meaningful inferences from those recreations.
As to my motives for doing this workI wanted to see what a more rigorous analysis of the published data might producegiven the almost non-analysis that the Palo Alto Police produced. I also wanted to see how much work it would take to do this analysis. Lastly, I wanted to see if my initial sense that there was no "racism" in the traffic enforcement here in Palo Alto was true.
The Police have managed to convince the City Council that they should not keep data on traffic stopsand now they no longer do. Last time I looked, I think that had removed the small number of data sets that they had put on their web-site, although I think that their "reports" are still there.
Given that the Palo Alto Police Department does not produce a yearly report on its activities, the data from the traffic stops was one of the few "windows" that the residents had to view the police at work. I would very much like to see this data captured, and made public, in the future. Claims that it is "too much work" for the traffic officers doesn't make much sense today, with tablet PCs, and digital cameras, to do much of the work.
Hopefully, trying to prove that there was no "racism" in our Police Department is not a bad thing, but I am interested to hear why it is from the person suggesting otherwise.