A Response to Chief Anderson’s Letter to Metro Council


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Chief Anderson’s belated letter to Metro City Council points out important debates in research on police officers’ racial bias but is entirely unsatisfactory as a response to Gideon’s Army’s Driving While Black report. Chief Anderson is correct that a single statistic cannot prove that “racially biased policing”—which MNPD defines as choosing to stop drivers “based solely” on their race—is causing the racial disparity in initial traffic stops. We do not make this argument in the report. We do make the argument that the observed racial disparities in stops, searches, and finding evidence during searches demonstrate a harmful discriminatory impact on black communities, likely stemming both from individual officer decisions and disparately impactful institutional policies and norms.

Chief Anderson cites several sources to show that racial profiling should be defined as an individual officer’s decision to stop a driver based solely on a group characteristic. He quotes the first sentence of the American Civil Liberties Union’s webpage on racial profiling but omits their critique of his definition a few paragraphs later. They state:

Defining racial profiling as relying “solely” on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion can be problematic. This definition found in some state racial profiling laws is unacceptable, because it fails to include when police act on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion in combination with an alleged violation of all law. Under the “solely” definition, an officer who targeted Latino drivers who were speeding would not be racial profiling because the drivers were not stopped “solely” because of their race but also because they were speeding. This would eliminate the vast majority of racial profiling now occurring (American Civil Liberties Union 2017).

Similarly, the Department of Justice does not establish that individual officers acted solely based on race when concluding that discriminatory racial impact and constitutional violations occurred in Baltimore and Ferguson. Using Census data, they argue that,

While there are limitations on using population data to benchmark vehicle stops because the proportion of drivers on roadways does not necessarily match the population living in a particular area, there are strong indications that BPD’s high rate of stopping African-American drivers is discriminatory (U.S. Department of Justice 2016:52).

Drawing methodologically from the DOJ’s Ferguson and Baltimore reports, we argue that the data show a consistent racially disparate impact across the county on multiple indicators. Chief Anderson’s letter to Metro Council overlooks discriminatory impact from probable cause and consent searches as well as the fact that officers are less likely to find evidence of a crime on black drivers. Our 22 interviews with black Nashville residents make clear that it is these discriminatory practices that are undermining police-community relations, not our report aimed at transforming policing and strengthening communities. The voices of community members were not mentioned in his letter.

In terms of methodology, Chief Anderson makes an important point: unadjusted Census benchmarks do not tell the full story of officers’ decision-making, but they can be strengthened through several adjustments, which we address in our report. First, to clarify several inaccuracies in Chief Anderson’s statement, prisoners are not included in the American Community Survey (ACS) since it only measures the non-institutionalized population and college students living in dorms are included in the ACS (U.S. Census Bureau 2016). The American Community Survey is continuously collected and estimates the population of metropolitan areas with more than 65,000 people annually. As recommended by Lorie Fridell (2004), one of the experts cited by Chief Anderson, ACS data can be adjusted by using the driving age population in combination with the proportion of households with access to vehicles.

The Driving While Black report assessed stops of residents separately from non-residents—as recommended by Fridell—since it matches the traffic stops to the benchmark being used (See Finding 2). Chief Anderson states that black drivers are 10% overrepresented; however, when excluding non-residents—as recommended by scholars—the disparity increases to 15%. If we adjust the Census benchmark for likely drivers through household car ownership, the black-white disparity would be even greater with black residents being 17.5% overrepresented in traffic stops. In 2014, 13.9% of black Nashville residents did not have access to a vehicle. White and Hispanic residents had greater access to vehicles with only 3.4% of white residents and 4.6% of Hispanic residents not having a vehicle (See Footnote 2 on page 37 of the report).

Chief Anderson can make insinuations about our ethics and research expertise, saying that we are “morally disingenuous” for promoting “a false narrative of racial profiling.” He can “categorically deny” that MNPD engages in racial profiling, and that community members asking for change are just biased against police. But the fact that MNPD’s policing strategy has a discriminatory impact on black communities, as black community members have been saying for years, will not change through denial, or through insufficient attempts at legitimizing these disparities, as we have previously shown. As community organizer D.J. Hudson stated at a recent press conference regarding Chief Anderson’s letter,

Not only to not hear the core assertion, which is that there is a problem here in Nashville, but to then assert that there is no problem and that the people who are identifying a problem are lying, shows a severe breach in this narrative that he is trying to paint, that things are cozy and all is well in Nashville.

The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel (2014), scholars at the University of Kansas, argue that the practice of pulling over many people in order to catch a few people who have committed crimes—or “looking past the stop” in MNPD parlance—deeply undermines community trust in police and limits communities’ ability to act collectively to reduce crime. They argue that, “the immediate task is to change institutionalized practices that have become the taken-for-granted definitions of professionalism, of what it means to do good police work” (Epp et al. 2014:160). Further, they state:

Changing norms and practice will also require the leadership of professional policing to frankly acknowledge and actively promote the message that investigatory stops cause harm. They cause harm even when the officer’s street-wise hunch draws attention to a driver or pedestrian and when the officer remains courteous and professional throughout the encounter. The current message from leaders that these stops ‘work’ is at best grossly imbalanced, at worst simply false. Every stop of an innocent person causes direct, palpable harm (Epp et al. 2014:161).

Gideon’s Army works to dismantle institutional injustices that are deeply ingrained in the criminal justice system. Chief Anderson just told us that he does not see discrimination as an institutional problem but a problem of single individuals acting on bias. This outdated and inaccurate understanding of racial discrimination undermines his credibility on issues of race and policing. Nashville deserves more.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. 2017. “Racial Profiling: Definition.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.aclu.org/other/racial-profiling-definition).

Epp, Charles R., Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald P. Haider-Markel. 2014. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. University of Chicago Press.

Fridell, Lorie A. 2004. “By the Numbers: A Guide for Analyzing Race Data from Vehicle Stops.” Police Executive Research Forum Washington, DC.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. “Group Quarters/Residence Rules.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/guidance/group-quarters.html).

U.S. Department of Justice. 2016. Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department.


Racial Disparities in Officer Lippert’s Traffic Stop & Search Practices

On Friday, February 10, MNPD officer Joshua Lippert stopped 31-year-old black Cayce Homes resident Jocques Scott Clemmons for running a stop sign. Clemmons, seemingly trying to avoid any confrontation with the officer, took off on foot, but Lippert followed and shot Clemmons in the back as he ran. The father of two young boys, beloved by his family, friends, and community, Clemmons died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center a short time later.

As we summarized in our Driving While Black report, released less than four months ago, “‘driving while black’ constitutes a unique series of risks, vulnerabilities, and dangers at the hands of MNPD that white drivers do not experience in the same way.” Given the over-policing that black community members endure, and the fear and anxiety that traffic stops induce for many black drivers, it is little surprise that Clemmons sought to avoid interacting with the officer at any cost. For trying to preserve his own life, Clemmons lost it.

A review of Officer Lippert’s disciplinary infractions shows a troubling history of use of excessive force. Subsequent stories have also been released detailing the nature of Lippert’s interactions with drivers. What has not yet been made public, however, are the exact number of Lippert’s stops and searches of black drivers. Using the same MNPD traffic stop database analyzed in the Driving While Black report, we release today a brief analysis of Officer Lippert’s equally egregious stop and search practices during 2016.

Officer Lippert’s traffic stop records for 2016 show that nearly 90% of the stops he made were of black drivers. His rate of stopping black drivers is disproportionate to the black population of any of the census tracts he patrolled. Census tracts are small county subdivisions that the Census Bureau uses to report population demographics. Compared to the average rate for other officers assigned to the same census tracts, Officer Lippert’s rate of stopping black drivers was 20% to 50% higher than other officers in the same areas. (See Table 1 and Figure 1. See Figure 4 for a map of census tracts where Officer Lippert patrolled and made more than 10 traffic stops in 2016.)

table-1-officer-lipperts-traffic-stops-2016-3figure-1-lipperts-traffic-stopsOfficer Lippert also searched drivers at astronomical rates. His rate for conducting any search (30.6%) is five times greater than officers patrolling the same census tracts (5.1%). His search rate vastly outpaced his colleagues in every census tract and across both forms of discretionary searches, consent and probable cause. (See Table 2 and Figure 2.)

table-2-officer-lipperts-searches-of-black-drivers-in-2016-compared-to-other-officersfigure-2-lipperts-traffic-stopsAs we outline in the full Driving While Black report, not only are discretionary searches used far more often on black drivers, officers are less likely to find incriminating evidence on black drivers than they are on white drivers. Officer Lippert’s search patterns show the same disparities: on black drivers, Lippert found 13 items of evidence in probable cause searches, and one item in a consent search. (See Figure 3.)

figure-3-officer-lipperts-search-success-rates-2016While it is true that Officer Lippert, as a flex officer, is typically assigned to patrol locations based on crime reports, the racial disparities in his stop and search numbers cannot be explained away by reference to alleged criminal activity in the areas he patrols. As we show in previous analyses, MNPD’s “we police where there is crime” justification does not stand because Officer Lippert’s stops and searches show racial disparities in every census tract he patrols, including in predominantly white areas. MNPD has also defended such racial disparities by arguing that such numbers are merely a consequence of the fact that they are only doing their job of keeping people safe in predominantly black, high-crime communities. If that were true, Jocques Clemmons would still be alive today.

While Officer Lippert’s stop and search practices show immense racial disparities, it should be understood that his actions are not an exception to but an expression of MNPD’s basic stop and search patterns, just in a particularly severe form. For this reason, Gideon’s Army condemns Officer Lippert’s actions, as well as the racially disproportionate stop and search regime of which it is a part. Moreover, holding Officer Lippert accountable also requires holding the entire Metro Nashville Police Department accountable for the discriminatory impact its practices have on communities of color. When we examine Officer Lippert’s record of disciplinary infractions, including several instances of excessive use of force, in combination with his troubling record of stopping and searching black drivers at rates dramatically higher than officers in the same areas, we see a clear recipe for racialized police brutality. In this instance, it has led to death. The lack of oversight on the part of Chief Anderson’s MNPD to monitor and report this information, and ultimately prevent the violence that transpired last week, supports the urgent demand for an independent civilian review board to protect the community from undue harm. We join Jocques Clemmons’ family, friends, and supporters in calling for such action.

Figure 4: Census Tracts Where Officer Lippert Made More than 10 Stops in 2016figure-4-lippert-census-tract-mapTo read our report and our subsequent statements and to view our public presentations, see the links below:

Full Driving While Black report

Executive Summary of Driving While Black report

Our rebuttal to MNPD’s unsatisfactory justification of racial disparities in traffic stops

Presentations by Gideon’s Army and MNPD to Metro Council regarding Driving While Black report

Gideon’s Army on Facebook