More than one in 10 deputies working for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office show discriminatory treatment against black and Hispanic people, according to a new Arizona State University study.
The public might not be shocked to learn that six-term sheriff Joe Arpaio runs a discriminatory agency. After all, the U.S. Department of Justice declared in 2011 that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in law-enforcement history.
But this report mainly covered 2015 — two years after U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled in the landmark civil-rights case Melendres v. Arpaio that Arpaio's deputies had violated the constitutional rights of Phoenix-area Hispanics.
Snow's ruling set off a chain of ostensible reforms, including the placement of a federal monitor in Arpaio's office. The reforms have been delayed or even intentionally stymied by the office, though, resulting in Snow ruling this past May that Arpaio was guilty of three counts of civil contempt.
To satisfy a court order to gather statistical data about traffic stops, the sheriff's office contracted with ASU's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The school's study, which was led by Danielle Wallace, an associate professor at ASU's School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, shows that Arpaio's agency still has work to do.
The report (linked below) compiles information from 27,850 traffic stops conducted from October 2014 to October 2015. Although the agency has about 700 sworn deputies, the study only examined the stops by deputies who made 10 or more stops during that time.
Some highlights from the report:
• After determining the average rate of traffic stops on each beat the sheriff's office patrolled, the study found that while most deputies stopped white drivers at a rate that fell within range of the average, 12.9 percent of deputies stopped black and Hispanic people at more than double the average rate.
• Only a very small fraction (1.7 percent) of the 27,850 stops involved the seizure of property, so researchers urge caution regarding the findings. Even so, the study notes that white people seem to get off easy. While 68 percent of all stops involved white drivers, those stops accounted for only 46 percent of seizures. Hispanics, blacks, and Native Americans, meanwhile, had property seized at higher percentages. Hispanics, for example, made up 21 percent of traffic stops yet accounted for 24 percent of all seizures.
• When blacks or Hispanics were stopped, they were detained for a "significantly longer" time than whites. The report notes that while most deputies seemed to be operating within the agency averages, certain individuals skewed the stats with apparent racial bias.
• The report labeled the clusters of deputies who skewed the stats on each beat "problem zones." These officers tended to "generate arrests by race at a greater frequency than other deputies working in the same beat or district."
Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project, represented Latinos in Melendres. Wang says the new study provides more clear evidence of biased policing against black and Hispanic motorists. She finds it troubling that the bias persists seven years after Melendres was filed.
Wang says that months ago, ASU supplied the sheriff's office with a list of deputies who had been found to stop blacks and Hispanics at higher rates. Instead of taking action, she says, the MCSO questioned the data.
"Have they sat down with them, their captains and supervisors, and taken corrective, disciplinary action?" she asks rhetorically. "Maybe it's an issue of training, maybe an issue of implicit bias. The response of the agency is what I'm interested in."
MCSO Lieutenant Gregory Lugo points out that the statistics might be skewed because it's the study's first full year of compiling data. But he says the sheriff's office doesn't dispute the findings.
"Any indicators of possible racial bias or racial profiling are extremely concerning," Lugo says, adding that his office will work with ASU, the lawyers in the case, and the monitor Judge Snow appointed to keep tabs on the department. The MCSO, he promises, will examine the "problem zones" and ensure that its officers operate lawfully and within "acceptable norms free of racial profiling or racial bias."
When the MCSO received information about the "problem zone" deputies back in May, Lugo says, each of those deputies' supervisor was told to review the data, discuss the issue with the deputy, and, if necessary, take further action.
In July, a court-appointed monitor found that the MCSO was only 40 percent compliant with Snow's 2013 ruling.
Preliminary Yearly Report for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Years 2014-2015: