Statistics are expected to play a big role in a decision by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow of Phoenix on whether Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio systematically engages in widespread discrimination against Latinos in its enforcement activities, reports the Arizona Republic. A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union triggered by a traffic stop in 2007 expanded to a class-action suit involving Latinos stopped by sheriff’s deputies. The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages, but rather impose oversight on the office to ensure that it does not discriminate.
Data from plaintiffs’ expert Ralph Taylor of Temple University showed Hispanic drivers were more likely to get pulled over during the sheriff’s “saturation” patrols; that they were more likely to have their names checked when stopped; and that their stops were likely to last more than two minutes longer than non-Hispanic drivers’ stops, no matter the day the stop occurred. Sheriff’s attorneys took the view that “if you torture numbers, they can tell you anything.” Arpaio defenders attacked Taylor’s report for not considering socioeconomic factors and for excluding certain traffic stops that resulted in arrests for drug possession or drunken driving, for example. “The data (are) very important, and whether or not the court accepts the data as it has been presented by the plaintiffs will be a key piece as to whether or not the plaintiffs succeed,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh professor and expert on racial-profiling.