On August 14, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU) and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released, to the public, a report titled "CHP Records Reveal A Pattern of Stopping Latinos to Impound Vehicles - a case study from Fresno County. The California Highway Patrol received a copy of the report just hours before its release and had little time to review the report and/or respond. This report was released in Caruthers California by ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Julia Harumi Mass. At the release Ms. Mass spoke about the report and explained the results of their analysis.
California Highway Patrol Central Division Chief Jim Abrames attended the public meeting and was given a limited time to speak at the end of the meeting about the report. Chief Abrames informed the public he had minimal time to review the report, additionally, the report had a significant amount of information, statistics, and statements he wanted to address.
After reviewing the ACLU/AFSC report, Chief Abrames prepared a response letter to the allegations alleged by the ACLU/AFSC.
Below is the text of the letter:
Dear Ms. Mass:
I have had the opportunity to review the August 2014 report prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California & the American Friends Service Committee titled: CHP Records Reveal a Pattern of Stopping Latinos to Impound Vehicles - a case study from Fresno County. Upon review of the document, I noted a biased methodology, statistical discrepancies, and inaccurate interpretations which incorrectly support an assertion Hispanics have been disproportionately treated by officers of the California Highway Patrol.
The first few pages of the report reiterates specific allegations made in 2012, which we were not able to investigate because of your decision not to share complainant information with the Department. Thus what followed was a review of written records which revealed when our officers had the legal authority to impound a vehicle, more than 50% of the time they chose not to. Further records showed that despite the census data showing Hispanics represent more than 50% of the population, they represented only 49.7 percent of the Area's citation activity which clearly is no indication of impropriety. These findings were provided to you in my correspondence dated April 9, 2013. Since that time, I had not had contact with you until I received a copy of your report on August 13, 2014.
In the report, pages four through nine contain partial data from which inaccurate conclusions are drawn. The Department provided over 4,600 citations in the data set and yet the report refers to only 4,440. The ratio of Hispanics was further raised by disregarding the ethnicity coding on the citations and declaring all persons with a Hispanic surname to be Hispanic, when that is not the case. The 4,440 citations are further manipulated through the creation of a self-defined category of "problematic" citations in which only portions of the available data were used. From the newly created data set, numbers are artificially raised such as the assertion in Annex C that Latinos are 1.6 times more likely to have their car impounded. The inflated number of 1.6 then becomes exaggerated to "almost twice as likely" on page 5 of the report. The first column label on page 5 is misleading as it insinuates all of the vehicles were impounded.
What you have described in your report as "problematic" citations (citations which do not list the probable cause for the stop), I would describe as a combination of collision related citations and citations which were issued with compassion (where the officer chose to issue a verbal warning for the probable
cause violation as opposed to citing all offenses observed). These acts of compassion by the officers reduced the monetary penalty by not stacking multiple violations/fines onto citations. Furthermore you have categorized these citations as problematic despite my April 9, 2013, correspondence which said "For those contacts in which they were not cited for the reason of the contact, traffic collisions represented the largest sample followed by mechanical, registration, and moving violations." Traffic collisions are the very thing we are trying to prevent.
Your report incorrectly states, "Impounding vehicles for unlicensed driving alone serves little safety interest at great cost to individuals, their families, and the communities in which they live and work." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that 12 percent of fatal collisions are caused by unlicensed drivers. Data for 2010, in Fresno County showed 27 percent of fatal collisions were caused by unlicensed drivers. Recently in the Caruthers area two of the last three recent fatal collisions were caused by unlicensed drivers. Our officers whom you labeled "bad apples" were trying to reduce the number of unlicensed drivers and corresponding collisions, ultimately translating into lives saved.
What the data shows using the numbers in the report is that the majority of the time, whether one has a Hispanic surname or not, their vehicle was not impounded. When their vehicles were impounded, there is a difference in the ratios between Hispanic and other ethnicities. The difference of which is ultimately a reflection of the ratio of collision involvement and/or the presence of a licensed driver to whom the vehicle could be released.
The data does not support the report's conclusions of impropriety. The Department's enforcement contact with the Hispanic community is at a lower rate than their representation in the community. The impound ratios simply reveal that for the period looked at, in which there were more than 24,000 contacts, of the 20% that were unlicensed, four out of five had Hispanic surnames. This is not surprising in the nation's number one agricultural region sustained in large part by the Hispanic community.
The mission of the California Highway Patrol is to provide the highest level of safety, service, and security to the people in the State of California. Our mission statement does not differentiate between people based on their residency status or surname. California Highway Patrol officers have a duty to enforce the laws written by the legislature. As an Internationally Accredited Agency, our enforcement policies are consistent with law and our stated mission. The law is clear regarding driving without a valid drivers license. The consequence of unlicensed drivers is clear as well.