Stopped, Fined, Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing & Traffic Courts in California

By: Theresa Zhen et al. Published by: East Bay Community Law Center. Published in: April 2016

Link to report

Link to PDF

Evidence presented in this report suggests that racial bias permeates the routines of California police and traffic courts. The authors highlight strong correlations between license suspension rates due to failure to appear/make payments in court and indicators of poverty in Black and Latino communities. This data shows that low-income individuals from these groups are targeted more frequently by the criminal justice system, leading to license suspension rates five times greater than the state average. In addition to the loss of critical transportation, many traffic cases often result criminal consequences that proliferate socioeconomic inequality.

Highlights include:

  • Between 2013 & 2015, persons of color made up 85% of the 20,000 people arrested and charged by the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. for driving with a suspended license
  • While the population of San Fransisco is less than 6% Black, this group makes up nearly half of arrests from warrants related to “failure to appear/pay”
  • Costs associated with vehicle towing and increased insurance contribute to disproportionate debt burden among minority groups
  • Disparities in arrests and license suspension as a result of failure to appear/pay not only have drastic implications for individuals and their families; they also influence community welfare and public trust in law enforcement

The report concludes with several recommendations for limiting the occurrence of bias and the collateral consequences associated with license suspension cases. Suggestions include modifying police procedure to ensure stops and arrests are solely to enhance public safety, reducing the criminalization of poverty by creating more manageable payment methods, and ensuring those with low income have access to legal representation.

Categories: Courts, Individual Rights, Legal Aid Practitioners, News Media, Policymakers and Funders, Reentry, Reentry, Researchers and Academics, State-Specific

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