A new report shows that minorities were still treated differently by deputies last year despite the election of the new sheriff, Paul Penzone.
A new report shows that minorities were still treated differently by deputies last year despite the election of the new sheriff, Paul Penzone.
Stephen Lemons

Maricopa County Drivers Half as Likely to Be Arrested During Stop – if Deputy Is Hispanic

A new report on how the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office handles traffic stops contains many statistics that should surprise no one: The data show a disparity in how deputies treat members of different ethnic groups.

The new report, prepared by Arizona State University researchers and covering both the old and new regimes at the troubled sheriff's office, also contains at least one unexpected finding — and it's not about how deputies treat Latino drivers, but how Latino deputies treat drivers.

Latino deputies made almost 41 percent fewer arrests of stopped drivers than white deputies. As the report puts it, the deputy's ethnicity "predicted changes in the odds of arrest."

Of course, the main focus of the study is how Maricopa County deputies as a whole treat Latino motorists they stop, and the report — the third such report produced by ASU — confirms apparent racial bias in the organization.

"We find consistent evidence that minorities, such as Hispanics, are treated differently from Whites for a number of post-stop outcomes," the report states.

Drivers who are black, Latino, or Native American, once stopped by a deputy, are more likely to be delayed longer, cited, searched, or arrested than white drivers, according to the report.

The statistical data must be collected and analyzed as part of the reforms mandated by a landmark federal court order in the civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio.

Arpaio served 24 years in office before voters denied him a seventh term as sheriff. He defied the court order and was convicted of misdemeanor contempt of court, but was infamously pardoned by President Trump.

The new report is the first of the three to look at the office both under Arpaio and the new sheriff, Paul Penzone, a Democrat. Examining the last six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017, each sheriff is responsible for half of the report's findings.

The report shows essentially no difference between the two regimes. But that's not necessarily surprising, either, because — as the report makes clear — the disparity in treatment of motorists is systemic in the sheriff's office.

After 24 years under Arpaio, Penzone can't be blamed for failing to change a culture overnight.

Neither Danielle Wallace, lead researcher for the report, nor the sheriff's office could offer an explanation for the finding for the lower arrest rates for Latino deputies.

Ninety-four of the office's 523 sworn deputies, or 18 percent, indicated they are Latino or Hispanic. So few of the deputies are female, black, or Native American, the differences expressed by those deputies weren't taken into account in the study.

The lower arrest ratio for Latino deputies held true over the average of all driver ethnicities, although the study found no statistical difference in how Latino deputies, compared to other deputies, treat Latino drivers.

To wit, the report found that, across the board, Maricopa County deputies generally stop, take a longer time with, cite, search, or arrest drivers who are black, Latino, or Native American at substantially higher rates than they do the same for white drivers.

The only noticeable improvement found in the third study is that the length of stop for Latino motorists, which has been falling since 2014, continues to fall. But the length of time during the stop is also falling for all other ethnic categories of drivers, meaning that the fact it's falling for Latinos doesn't mean it's time to hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Penzone, in a statement to Phoenix New Times, wouldn't comment directly on the finding about Latino deputies, but indicated he's making changes based on the "unique patterns" identified.

"Upon receiving the raw data, I take the appropriate next steps to determine methods to improve all public safety practices, to eliminate all biased policing and to inspire effective, lawful and productive law enforcement services," Penzone said. "We will evaluate these unique patterns to determine why they are occurring and if actions are necessary to overcome disparate treatment if it exists."

Presumably, that means boosting the number of arrests by Latino deputies instead of seeking a 40 percent decrease of driver arrests by white deputies.

The study looked at 22,233 stops for the 2016-2017 time frame.

Here are a few of the report's other important stats:

• Latinos endure worse consequences after getting stopped, but they get stopped at a lower rate than white drivers. About 67 percent of the stops were of white drivers, but census data shows that whites were 56 percent of the county's population in 2017. Latinos, meanwhile, made up 30 percent of county residents but composed only 22.4 percent of the MCSO stops.

• People who identified as black made up 6 percent of county residents in 2017 and 7.7 percent of the stops.

• Once stopped, Latino drivers were nearly 70 percent more likely than white drivers to be arrested, and black drivers were 91 percent more likely. Native Americans came in at a whopping 142 percent more likely. However, because Native Americans made up only 1.1 percent of the stops, the high arrest quotient may be erroneous because of the small sample size.

• The odds of arrest for drivers of all ethnic groups increased by 9.7 percent for each passenger in the vehicle.

• Young people are treated differently: For every year of age, in all ethnic groups, the odds of a citation, search, or arrest during a stop decrease significantly.

• Men are treated differently: Men of all ethnic groups were almost 50 percent more likely to be arrested than women.

• Whites were twice as likely to be arrested as Asians.

In spite of the implications, it's unclear whether the studies show that, because minorities have different outcomes during traffic stops, Maricopa County deputies are racists and bigots. After all, nearly one in five deputies are Latino. The likely answer is that Arpaio created an institutional culture that disfavors minorities.

The third study showed a large number of deputies who fell outside the norm for the office in terms of arrests, citations, and search-and-seizure for drivers. Yet this was also the case in past years' studies, and the deputies flagged as above-average for possible bias aren't the same each year.

"These results collectively suggest systemic bias within the patrol function of the MCSO, rather than the problem being concentrated among a few deputies showing patterns of problematic behavior," the report states.

In other words, Penzone still has a lot of work to do.

The studies don't take into account the aggregate actions or personal situations of the ethnic groups. Wallace confirmed that the study assumes the behavior of drivers is always the same in all stops, across all ethnic groups, but she agreed this may not necessarily be the case.

For example, federal statistics show that black and Latino drivers likely have a higher incidence of DUIs and impairment-related crashes than white drivers – factors that in turn could lead to more arrests or a longer stop.

Black and Latino residents also have lower average incomes and wealth than white residents. Wallace agreed that could lead to longer stop times among ethnic groups because of money-related problems like lack of insurance or expired tags.

The language barrier is another factor the studies couldn't take fully into account. Language was considered a factor in the time of stop, but only if deputies noted a language problem during the stop.

See below for the full study report:

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