Seattle police writing fewer jaywalking tickets, but high rate still issued to black pedestrians

“On the face of it, it appears to be a disparity,” said Seattle Police Assistant Chief Perry Tarrant. Overall, jaywalking tickets are way down in Seattle, but a disproportionate percentage are issued to black people.

A jaywalking ticket in Seattle will set you back $68. But if the countless pedestrians who cross against the light every day don’t seem overly concerned, they have good reason.

Seattle police are writing a lot fewer jaywalking tickets lately — last year, the total was just 160, according to Seattle Municipal Court records. The numbers have dropped steadily since 2010, when police issued 461 citations.

Even with the decline, however, one pattern persists: A disproportionately high percentage of jaywalking tickets in Seattle are written to black people.

Of the total 1,710 jaywalking tickets issued by Seattle police from 2010 to 2016, 447 — more than one in four — went to a black pedestrian. In any given year during this period, the share of tickets received by black people never dipped below 20 percent.

In 2016, 28 percent of the citations were written to black people, who represent just about 7 percent of the city’s population, according to census data.

“On the face of it, it appears to be a disparity,” said Seattle Police Assistant Chief Perry Tarrant, adding: “I’d have to do a deeper dive to determine where and how and who are issuing the citations in order to say there’s some kind of disparity in the number of citations issued to African Americans.”

Tarrant notes that the way the police department collects data on race has serious limitations. Officers determine the race of an individual based on appearance, and can only pick one of five categories: Asian, black, Native American, white and unknown. The department does not track Hispanic ethnicity.

“We have a very diverse population, and we squeeze them all into five categories that may not necessarily be appropriate,” Tarrant said. Even so, he said he does not believe that officers are over-categorizing people as black when issuing jaywalking tickets.

Rebecca Boatright, chief legal officer for SPD, cautioned against drawing conclusions regarding bias from the data because of the small number of citations, the lack of circumstantial information and the pitfalls of comparing Seattle’s population to those who were ticketed.

“I’d be very surprised if any meaningful inference could be drawn here,” she…

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