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