Atherton, CA's police blotter: 175 out of 182 police stops had drivers with Hispanic surnames


Simple solution: change your surname!


I’m guessing that the sudden cessation of online police blotter publication was 100% coincidental and wholly unrelated to this analysis or somebody from town/PD Legal turning a cool purple color.


Not to nitpick, but the the post title is incorrect. We don’t know what percent of the people who were stopped had Hispanic surnames. All we know is that out of those that were given citations, they were nearly all Hispanic. For all we know the police could have pulled over 150 white people as well but they all had valid drivers licenses so they weren’t issued citations and don’t appear in the data.

That’s not to say I disbelieve the notion that the Atherton police use racial profiling. I know that area well and I bet they do.

Rather, I’m just bothered by the way we’re conflating two different conditional probabilities. If Pr(H) is the probability of being hispanic, Pr© is the probability of being given a citation, and Pr(S) is the probability of being stopped then this data gives us an insight into Pr(H|C), the probability of being Hispanic given that you were issued a citation, but the post’s title makes it sound like it’s giving up Pr(S|H), the probability of being stopped given that you are Hispanic.

Pr(S|H) and Pr(H|C) aren’t the same thing at all!


CD is a big fan of the Daily Mail school of journalism: correlation = causation.

Great observation Nylund. Redwood City and East Palo Alto are less affluent and heavily hispanic towns bordering the very affluent Atherton. Even if the police weren’t profiling race, they are profiling driving skills and vehicle condition. Perhaps the conclusion is that people who commit some type of driving infraction AND are from a less affluent surrounding town are more likely to have warrants and license issues than the rich people in Atherton who can afford attorneys and fines.


In short: “you’ve neglected the possibility that people with Hispanic surnames are simply more likely to be criminals!”

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Around here, we call “profiling driving skills and vehicle condition” Driving While Poor.


Many Hispanics are white people.

It’s also scary that many of the violations (I didn’t check all of them) are for driving without a a valid license. I wouldn’t want to be on the road with folks who can’t qualify for a license or have had theirs revoked.

In this case, being a “criminal” usually means having an invalid driver’s license (violating VC 12500 being, by far, the most commonly given citation.) So yes, what I’m saying is that there’s a possibility that a poor Hispanic person is more likely to have an invalid driver’s license (or no license at all) than a rich white Athertonian. I can think of many reasons for that, mostly centered around the idea that a rich Athertonian can more likely hire the sort of lawyers that can prevent a license from getting suspended in the first place.


My brother (who is white) lived in Palo Alto and drove a shitty looking car and was constantly pulled over. I’m willing to bet that the cops are pulling over people driving old and damaged cars, and those people are more often Hispanic in that area.

You like typing, huh

Rest assured I’m very much understand the difference between race, ethnicity, and the role self-identification and social constructs play in both concepts. You’re point is a good one, and one I often make myself especially since my own family is such a crazy mix of different self-identifications when it comes to white/non-white and Hispanic/non-Hispanic. It was just sloppy and lazy writing.


Did you know you can get your license suspended or revoked for an equipment violation? Can an undocumented immigrant obtain a license in California?

Don’t be so quick to assume that these are unskilled drivers.

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I was a teen in adjacent Redwood City more than three decades ago. That town reminds me of the enclaves in Snow Crash. Their cops at least used to wear fashionable blazers. I’m only surprised that minorities ever drive through there! Most of us kids were scared to drive through Atherton. The borders were obvious because of the thick tree lines on all sides.

I wonder if any of the violators were carrying bags a Skittles?

I’ve been stopped by the Atherton police. I was heading home around midnight after visiting a friend in Redwood City, and my van’s cooling system had failed on the way home, so I stopped by the side of the road to pour water into the radiator. Normally in a case like that I’d expect the police to ask if I needed any help. Nope - it’s “License and registration!” Because people in Atherton don’t have vans; vans belong to tradespeople, who should be long gone by midnight. (A mini-van would have been fine; it’s the correct social class.)

The south end of Redwood city is largely poor and Hispanic. And you don’t have to be a bad driver not to have a license; the usual reason for Hispanic people not to have licenses is that they don’t have their citizenship papers in order, but still need to drive. Back in the early 1990s, California’s Republican governor Pete Wilson decided it should be illegal to drive while speaking Spanish. The primary effect on safety is that, unlike citizens who need to learn to drive safely in order to get a license, non-citizens don’t need to learn safety.)

There’s a series of YouTube videos that displays some of the bizarre police blotter entries in Atherton and then talks to a few of the residents there.

Google Streetview Prank Calls -01- There Goes The Neighborhood

Google Streetview Prank Calls -02- Horseshoes and Puppydogs

Google Streetview Prank Calls -03- Quadcopters and Drivebys