A study released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union shows a sharp racial disparity in seatbelt citations issued by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
Data from 2011 — the most recent available — shows that Escambia deputies stopped and cited black drivers for seatbelt violations four times more often than white drivers. Florida law enforcement agencies are required to annually report the race and ethnicity of anyone ticketed for failure to wear a seatbelt. It’s not immediately clear why the ECSO hasn’t reported the data since 2011.
“We are very disappointed that the public data shows that our community has one of the worst racial disparities in enforcement of Florida’s seatbelt safety law,” said Sara Latshaw, the ACLU’s North Florida Director. “The data in this report raises serious concerns about the treatment of black drivers in Escambia County.”
Escambia County had the greatest racial disparity of any agency survey in the study. Statewide, the study found that black drivers are 1.9 times more likely than white drivers to be ticketed.
“The numbers are shocking, said Nusrat Choudhury, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and a co-author of the study. “These racial disparities raise serious concerns that officers are engaging in racial profiling when enforcing the state’s safety belt law. It raises a red flag when seatbelt enforcement by specific agencies leads to racial disparities that exceed even the dramatic statewide gap. These agencies must take steps to address the disparities and promote fair and impartial policing.”
The ACLU is calling on the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate.
In a blog post to the Florida ACLU’s website, Choudhury highlighted the 2015 high-profile cases of Sam DuBose, Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland — three African-Americans who died after being pulled over for traffic stops. 2015 showed in terrible and vivid detail how even routine police traffic stops carry the risk of escalating to arrest or the use of force — even lethal force,” wrote Choudhury. “Traffic stops are not simply innocuous encounters. They can be deadly, particularly for black people.”
Latshaw said Wednesday that she has already spoken with ECSO officials about the report. “We look forward to collaborating with people in the community and working productively with local law enforcement to find ways to address the situation and ensure that all Escambia County residents are being treated fairly under the same laws,” said Latshaw.
The study also singled out the sheriff’s offices in Broward, Orange, and Palm Beach counties for their high racial ticketing disparities. In addition to calling for an investigation, the ACLU is also asking the Florida Legislature to pass a measure penalizing law enforcement agencies that fail to comply with the statute’s annual data reporting requirement. The report also recommends that law enforcement collect and analyze data for all traffic and pedestrian stops; provide testing on implicit bias and training on bias-free policing to all officers; and retrain officers whose stop-and-citation practices result in large racial disparities.
ECSO officials have not returned requests for comment.
The ACLU’s full report is included below: