Racial Profiling: Newest Trend in Silicon Valley?

The tech industry is very white. The rest of California isn't always so white. The gap between the startup crowd's success and a flagging national economy can be tense enough—but according to this report, local police are targeting hispanic drivers in Facebook's backyard. That won't help.

Pinterest software engineer Kent Brewster scraped a chunk of public data from the Atherton, California Police Department. Atherton is only a few minutes from startup enclaves like Menlo Park and San Mateo, with a median household income of $186,725—three times the state average. It is a very nice place, and a very white place.

Brewer was recently playing around with blotter information:

While it's fun to giggle at all those suspicious circumstances, mysterious disturbances, construction complaints, parking hassles, and miscellaneous town ordinance violations, the data takes a sobering turn when we examine vehicle code violations from February through July of 2013.

Racial Profiling: Newest Trend in Silicon Valley?

From this data, Brewer makes the following notes:

  • 175 out of the 182 drivers cited have Hispanic names.
  • Almost nobody from Atherton ever gets a ticket. Here are the stats:
    • Redwood City: 96
    • East Palo Alto: 23
    • Menlo Park: 11
    • Atherton: 2


And wonders:

Why were so many (over a hundred) of these citations filed as misdemeanors instead of infractions, under 12500(a) VC instead of 12500? A misdemeanor charge means that the subject must report for booking, including mug shots and fingerprints, and will retain a misdemeanor arrest on record unless (massively expensive and time-consuming) legal action is taken. Where are the non-Hispanic drivers? Are they all let off with warnings, or are they simply never pulled over in the first place?

This is a subset of a subset of data, and not enough to damn any police department on its own. But it sure looks bad! Particularly when couples with comments on the data at Hacker News:

I drive an older Civic and my girlfriend drives a really beat up old Civic. We would get followed home down El Camino and Fair Oaks basically every day. To the point that the police learned that our Civics actually belonged in that Atherton block and then stopped following us after a few months. I had friends come over in expensive cars and hang out and not a single one was followed. I asked them specifically to keep an eye on if they were followed because the profiling was so blatant with me. The expensive cars were never followed.

[...]

when jogging in Atherton, I'd sometimes not make it home before dusk, and on multiple occasions I had a police car follow me, shining lights in my face to make sure I'm "someone" that belongs in Atherton.

[...]

I got pulled over in Atherton. I was driving a filthy 15 year old Toyota I'd bought for $800. The cop said he'd only pulled me over because "dirty cars are often stolen." I didn't get a ticket since I hadn't done anything wrong, but I really don't think he had reasonable suspicion for that stop. I'm not Hispanic, but he was basically profiling me for driving a poor person's car.

At this time the Atherton Police Department is no longer posting public data, and hasn't returned my call for comment.