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

Across the country, low-income people who commit minor offenses are saddled with fines, fees and penalties that pile up, driving them deeper into poverty. What’s worse, they are jailed for nonpayment, increasing the risk of losing their jobs or their homes.

This report and its interactive maps brings to light a disturbing truth that remains ever present in the lives of Californians: there are dramatic racial disparities in driver’s license suspensions and arrests related to unpaid traffic fines and fees.

Click here to read the full report. 

What You Need to Know

1. Previous research on racial bias in policing shows that Black and Latino people are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, but less likely to be found with contraband or doing something illegal.

2. New data shows that rates of driver’s license suspensions due to failure to appear or failure to pay are directly correlated with poverty and race. The highest suspension rates are found in the poorest neighborhoods, and neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black or Latino residents.

Click the map below to find out what this looks like in your neighborhood.

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3. New data also shows that Black and Latino drivers are disproportionately arrested for driving with a suspended license and for warrants for failure to appear or pay a traffic ticket. White drivers are disproportionately NOT arrested.

The disproportionate arrests based on race are especially drastic in major urban ares like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles County, Black people are 9.2% of the population yet 33% of those arrested for driving with a suspended license (over-represented by 3.6x). White people are 26.8% of the county’s residents, yet only 14.8% of those arrested for driving with a suspended license (under-represented by 0.6x).

In this map of Los Angeles, each dot represents an arrest of a person for driving on a suspended license, color-coded by race.  Arrests of White individuals (shown in red) are scattered throughout the city and show no discernible concentration in a single neighborhood. Meanwhile, arrests of Black and Latino individuals occur in the neighborhoods that have high poverty rates, low household incomes, and low unemployment rates. These neighborhoods include South Central Los Angeles (Watts and Compton) and Inglewood.

In the City and County of San Francisco, the population is 5.8% Black, yet 48.7% of arrests for a “failure to appear/pay” traffic court warrant are of Black drivers (over-represented by 8.4x). White people are 41.2% of San Francisco’s residents, yet only 22.7% of those arrested for driving with a suspended license (underrepresented by 0.6x).