Report Finds Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Most Likely to Stop Black People For Traffic Violations

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SACRAMENTO—Today, the ACLU of Northern California and Catalyst California (formerly Advancement Project California) released “Reimagining Community Safety: Sacramento County,” which exposes racial disparities in traffic enforcement conducted by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

An analysis of 2019 data collected under California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) found that Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies disproportionately stop Black people for traffic violations, a disturbing finding given the number of high-profile, tragic police killings of Black people during traffic stops.

Furthermore, data show that of the 4,242 hours sheriff’s deputies logged making traffic stops in 2019, they spent more than two-thirds of their time enforcing minor vehicle equipment or non-moving violations—such as a broken taillight or expired registration. Law enforcement officers often use such non-safety related traffic violations as a pretext to look for evidence of criminal activity when they don’t have reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed or probable cause for a search.

“In addition to racially profiling Black drivers, Sacramento sheriff’s deputies waste significant patrol time pulling people over for minor violations that pose little risk to traffic safety,” said Marshal Arnwine, an advocate with the ACLU of Northern California’s Criminal Justice Program. “Both practices make the community less safe. The sheriff’s office must stop enforcing racially biased pretext stops and the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office should decline to file charges stemming from these traffic stops.”  

The report also urges the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to increase funding for the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office and for programs that reduce interactions between the public and law enforcement, such as the Sacramento County Community Wellness Response Team that provides emergency services for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Key Findings

  • Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) deputies disproportionately stop Black people for traffic violations, reasonable suspicion, and “consensual” searches. In 2019, SCSO stopped Black people for vehicle equipment violations (e.g., defective brake lights) at a rate nearly 5.5 times higher than for white people. Deputies stopped Black people for non-moving violations (e.g., invalid registration) at a rate nearly 5 times higher than for white people.   


  • More than two-thirds (68%) of the total hours SCSO deputies logged enforcing traffic violations in 2019 were spent on vehicle equipment and non-moving violations, a waste of tax dollars that does not improve community safety. 


  • SCSO deputies spend a considerable amount of time on traffic stops that result in a warning or no action, indicating pretext. In 2019, nearly 3 of every 4 hours spent enforcing traffic violations led to a warning or no other action.


The full report, published by the ACLU of Northern California and Catalyst California, is available here.

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