One in every 50 Palo Alto, Calif., residents is black. But one in every seven drivers pulled over in the city is black, according to the police department. Once pulled over, whites are searched 5 percent to 10 percent of the time, city statistics show. Blacks are searched about 20 percent of the time. At first blush, the data appears to back up many African-Americans’ claims that they’re being disproportionately targeted by local police. But do they provide evidence of wrongdoing by the department? That’s not so clear, reports the Bay Area News Group.
Charges of racial profiling have been leveled at Palo Alto in the two weeks since Police Chief Lynne Johnson told reporters that her officers would be stopping African-Americans on the street as they work to solve a rash of assaults. To some, the comments sounded like an endorsement of racial profiling. Johnson later apologized, saying she misspoke and pointing to the department’s “zero tolerance” policy against racial profiling. Little noticed in the flap has been the department’s own reports of traffic stops broken down by racial group, information that has been collected for years. The problem, Palo Alto officials say, is deciphering the significance of those numbers.