Equal Voice: California Has Income Disparities in Who Loses Licenses, Report Says

Monday, April 25, 2016

In California, where you live may help determine whether your license is suspended or you land in jail over unpaid traffic tickets. East-Bay-Community-Law-Center_298

A new study found a wide disparity between rates of drivers from high-poverty, Black and Latino neighborhoods losing their licenses or getting arrested over traffic fines, fees, or failure to appear in court, and rates among drivers from wealthier zip codes.

How wide? San Francisco’s Bay View/Hunter’s Point neighborhood has a 23.5 percent poverty rate and the city’s highest percentage of Black residents, according to a report released by East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC).

Their license suspension rate (6.7 percent) was more than three times the state average, the report said.

In the nearby and wealthier Marina District, the suspension rate (0.4 percent) was five times below the state average, the report found.

“There is growing understanding that both implicit and explicit bias in the policies and practices of the police and courts contribute significantly to systemic racial inequities,” the report, “Stopped, Fined, Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California,” said.

While Black residents are only 9.2 percent of the population in Los Angeles County, they represent 33 percent of people arrested for driving with a suspended license, the report added.

These new findings build on a 2015 study by EBCLC, “Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California,” which found more than 4 million licenses were suspended because drivers couldn’t pay or fight their tickets.

This was created by “significantly increased fines and penalties, combined with policies that required full payment of all fines and fees before the validity of a citation could be challenged,” that report said.

Researchers did more than highlight disparities in the new report. They offered recommendations, including:

• “State law must prohibit courts from referring licenses to the DMV for suspension because of failure to pay or appear on infraction violations, and must restore driver’s licenses for people who only have suspensions because they could not pay or appear.”
• “Police agencies must cease making arrests solely based on warrants for failure to pay or appear, or for driving with a suspended license for a failure to appear or pay. Furthermore, courts must not issue arrest warrants for failure to appear or failure to pay infraction fines.”
• “Law enforcement agencies must take steps to curtail the over-policing of poor communities and communities of color.”

You can also see how driver’s license suspension rates and poverty rates intersect across California in EBCLC’s interactive maps.

East Bay Community Law Center, which is based in Berkeley, California, focuses on the causes of poverty and inequality. The law center also works on strengthening opportunities in education, economic security, health and welfare and housing. 

– See more at: http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/calif-has-income-disparities-in-who-loses-licenses-report-says/#sthash.WEwIJ7Hl.dpuf

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