For the first time ever, broad data from jaywalking police stops across the state of Washington is showing conclusively what many people have understood for years: jaywalking enforcement has disproportionate impacts on Black and unhoused community members. Black pedestrians are stopped by police across Washington for jaywalking at an average rate over four times that of their share of the population, and unhoused residents represent at least 41% of those impacted by jaywalking stops in Washington.
While national data has shown similar impacts in every jurisdiction for which we have data, this is the first comprehensive analysis of jaywalking enforcement across Washington State. This research, which involved careful analysis of thousands of jaywalking-related police stops from 2017-2022, also highlights that dozens of jaywalking stops across Washington have led to the use of physical force or foot pursuits by an officer, including instances in which the person stopped lost consciousness as a result of that force. Police in Washington appear to use these high-discretion stops primarily to detain people who are walking in low-income areas and check for open warrants, which computer-aided dispatch logs indicate occurs during 77% of all jaywalking stops. Statewide records show that the majority of stops occur at least a 3.5-minute walk, round-trip, from the nearest marked crosswalk, demonstrating how jaywalking laws criminalize a rational, inevitable response to inadequate pedestrian infrastructure.
This analysis is the result of a partnership between Transportation Choices and researcher Ethan C. Campbell to better understand how jaywalking has been enforced in Washington. These findings have shaped the Free to Walk WA campaign messaging and policy development, and, most importantly, has helped affirm the experiences of those who have been needlessly harassed for crossing the street where and when it is safe and convenient for them.
Research findings on jaywalking enforcement in Washington
Methodology: The following information and statistics are based on public records obtained from law enforcement, dispatch agencies, and courts across Washington. These include a comprehensive set of 9,833 jaywalking tickets issued across Washington from 2000 to 2023 and a sample of 1,079 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) logs, citations, and incident reports documenting jaywalking stops from 2017 to 2022, primarily within Washington’s five most populous counties. For questions, contact Ethan Campbell at [email protected].
Impacts of jaywalking enforcement:
- Black pedestrians are stopped by police across Washington for jaywalking at a rate 4.7 times and ticketed at a rate 2.7 times greater than their share of the population, as calculated by compositing the demographics of cities, towns, and unincorporated areas where stops occurred and/or citations were issued in which race was reported by an officer.
- Unhoused residents represent at least 41% of those impacted by jaywalking stops in Washington, as determined by the home address listed in police reports (which may be noted as “homeless,” “transient,” or the address of a shelter or service provider) or clear indications in an officer’s narrative report.
- Police reports show nearly 3% of jaywalking stops across Washington leading to the use of physical force by an officer (two instances of which resulted in individuals losing consciousness), foot pursuits, or otherwise explosive confrontations.
- Stop records show that 5% of those detained for jaywalking in Washington are youth.
- CAD reports of jaywalking-related police contacts indicate that 65-88% of stops result in a verbal warning and 7-30% lead to a citation being issued.
- Jaywalking violations listed in the RCW incur a civil, non-traffic infraction of $68, not including late penalties. Violations of local pedestrian interference statutes, such as Spokane Municipal Code 10.10.025, are criminal offenses with penalties ranging from $250-$1,000.
- Across Washington, police stops for jaywalking predominantly occur on large arterial roadways and state highways characterized by pedestrian-hostile infrastructure designed in ways that encourage jaywalking.
- The majority of mid-block crossings leading to a stop happen 450 or more feet from the nearest marked crosswalk or signalized intersection, as identified by referencing stops with well-defined locations to satellite and Google Street View imagery. This distance represents at least a 3.5-minute round-trip detour on foot, not including the wait time for long signals that frequently prioritize vehicular traffic over pedestrians.
- Three-quarters of crossing-related violations leading to a police contact occur on roads with five or more lanes. Additionally, most violations related to walking on the roadway occur on roads with no sidewalks or a sidewalk only on one side.
- Police records contain unambiguous examples of illegitimate stops of pedestrians who were lawfully crossing using an unmarked crosswalk, which in Washington exist at every intersection except those between two signals.
Purpose of jaywalking enforcement:
- It appears that police in Washington use jaywalking stops not primarily for safety education, but rather to arbitrarily stop people who are walking in low-income areas in order to check for open warrants.
- CAD records show police conducting warrant checks during 77% of all jaywalking stops, taking advantage of the opportunity to run an individual’s name or other identifying information through national and state criminal databases. Police reports show that jaywalking enforcement is often a component of crime-oriented emphasis patrols, rather than those specifically focused on traffic safety.
- Despite this stop-and-frisk-style approach, only about 5% of jaywalking stops result in arrests, some of which are for interaction-related offenses such as obstruction or giving a false name that would not have been an issue had the stop not occurred.
- Forms of suspicion unrelated to the jaywalking violation appear to frequently play a role in motivating officers’ stops of pedestrians.
- Just 3% of jaywalking stops in Washington are of pedestrians noted by police to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Data from across the U.S. tells a similar story...
A ProPublica and Florida Times-Union report published in 2017 showed that Black residents of Jacksonville are three times more likely to receive a citation for a pedestrian violation than white residents.
San Diego, CA
Black people represented 16% of all San Diego jaywalking citations issued between January 2015 and June 2021, according to data provided by the San Diego Police Department, despite being only 6% of the city’s population.
Los Angeles, CA
Long Beach, CA
Black residents make up about 11% of Long Beach’s population, but they account for 36% of police citations for minor infractions like jaywalking, smoking in a park and riding a bike at night without a light.
New York, NY
From January 1 to March 31, 2020, the NYPD wrote 80 tickets for illegal crossing and only one went to a person identified in police logs as “white.” The rest — 78 of the 79 tickets for which a race was listed, or 99% — went to Black or Hispanic individuals, who comprise about 55% of the population.
Kansas City, MO
123 citations have been issued for jaywalking in Kansas City over the past three years. Of those, 65% were issued to Black people and 34% were written to white people. Nearly 30% of Kansas City residents are Black, while about 55% of residents are white, according to recent census data.