King County Auditor review of Sheriff’s Office racial disparities

This week the King County Auditor released a report detailing its analysis of racial disparities within the practices and operations within the King county Sheriff’s Office.

The top-level finding of the study is that the King County Sheriff’s Office does not collect and retain the kind of data that would allow for a robust analysis of whether racial disparities exist. Its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system does not contain a field for recording the race of people who are stopped. Facing this lack of information, the auditor was required to piece together partial information from case files, arrest files, and use-of-force incidents; all of those records (about 37,000 in total) do include race — but they only comprise about 4% of Sheriff’s Office calls, and there is a strong argument that they are not a representative sample of the total set. The auditor recommended that the Sheriff’s Office collect data on race for all calls, which may require changes to King County law to allow it.

In analyzing the data it could gather, it found:

  • White offices are a group appear to use force twice as often as Black or Asian officers;
  • Officers used force against both Hispanic and Black people more often than other races and against White people less;
  • White officers use force against Black people more often than other officers;
  • There are racial disparities in the number of people reported as suspects when compared to the King County population, particularly for Black people;
  • Black people were more likely to be arrested, Asian people less likely; but arrests were proportional to the number of reported suspects.

The report also provides some early thinking on possibly alternative 911 responses, similar to the options that the City of Seattle has been considering. The Auditor’s Office built a simple risk analysis model to determine the risk that sending responders other than officers would present to the responders. The auditor’s recommendations focus on an alternative crisis response model, and whether response should be civilian-led or “co-responders.”

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