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Research by ASU Uncovers Continuous Bias Against Hispanic Motorists by MCSO

poster justicia
Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

For decades, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) violated the civil rights of Latino motorists. This statement is not a political posture but a judicial conclusion based on data collected by a brave group of activists and a legal defense organization who for years reported the instances of traffic stops and later successfully litigated the issue in the courts.

The traffic stops disproportionally affected Latino motorists to the point that a court called them racially biased policing.

This anti-constitutional practice was one of Joe Arpaio’s trademarks. In his effort to enforce immigration law and deport as many brown people as possible, the Maricopa sheriff basically set up a massive fishing expedition to probe into the status of everyone who looked like they might be an immigrant.

The main conclusion of the study states that Hispanics continue to have a greater likelihood of arrest and search during a traffic stop, as was reported in 2015‐2016.

In 2013, Arpaio’s MCSO came under court orders to correct the racially biased policing practices. As part of the order, the judge ordered the law enforcement agency to contract with Arizona State University’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety (CVPCS) to collect and analyze data.

This order puts statistics and knowledge at the service of the community.

Now, a new data analysis of police encounters is painting the picture that we most suspected and feared: Although Paul Penzone has been sheriff since 2017, the culture of racially biased policing fostered and promoted by Arpaio is still ingrained at the core of MCSO, with only a few improvements being noted.

According to the study, Annual Report for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: Years 2016 to 2017, submitted on May 17, 2018, the traffic stop data gathering and management by MCSO has made significant progress by increasing the quality of the data, reducing duplicate and missing records. This is a positive.

But on the negative side, the study found:

  • Consistent evidence that minorities, such as Hispanics, are treated differently from Whites in a number of post-stop outcomes, such as arrest, search, and seizure.
  • The issue of differential outcomes for minorities appears to be spread across the patrol function of the MCSO rather than a being function of the behavior of a small number of deputies.
  • There was little change in the differential race effects for post-stop outcomes since Arpaio was in charge, with the exception of the length of the stop. The length of stop for Hispanics has steadily declined between 2014 and 2017.

You can read the complete report in PDF format by the Center of Violence Prevention and Community Safety here

The study recommends a cleanup of internal policies at MCSO and organizational culture changes, both formal and informal, that generate these differences in treatment between white and minority motorists, especially in post-stop actions.

The results of this study are frustrating. The community has fought for years for justice and worked tirelessly to vote Arpaio out of office, supporting current Sheriff Paul Penzone. We deserve a complete and decisive reform at MCSO that brings the agency into absolute compliance.

Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund funded the BAZTA Arpaio campaign that mobilized thousands of low propensity Latino voters in Maricopa County and took Joe Arpaio out of office.