Race-based bias: Consultants demonstrate racist policing, council says study didn’t go far enough

Local justice systems disproportionately contact black people, a new report finds. Local justice systems disproportionately contact black people, a new report finds.

A report from a private consulting firm has concluded that Charlottesville and Albemarle disproportionately arrest black people, and that race-based disparities exist in the treatment of individuals in otherwise similar situations.

The report analyzes adult arrest data from the beginning of 2014 through the end of 2016. During that period, more than half (51.5 percent) of those arrested in Charlottesville were black men, despite black men making up only 8.5 percent of the city’s total population. In Albemarle County, where black men made up only 4.4 percent of the population, 37.6 percent of arrests were of black men. (The full report can be viewed here.)

That disproportionality is accompanied by racial disparity at multiple levels of the area’s criminal justice systems. African American defendants received harsher charges than white defendants for similar crimes. African American defendants were held without bond more often. African American men were held in jail prior to trial twice as long, on average, as white men.

The majority of people booked in Charlottesville are black, even though black people make up a small minority of the city’s population.

The city commissioned MGT Consulting Group, a national firm that often works with municipal governments, to put together the report in 2018. The city paid for $65,000 of the $155,000 project, with the remaining funding coming from the state. Charlottesville ran a similar study on the juvenile criminal justice system in 2011, which also found racial disproportionality.

In addition to the raw data, the report incorporates interviews with law enforcement officers, lawyers, and people who have been arrested, and consultants held a series of community meetings over the last nine months.

At the February 3 City Council meeting, the consultants made an official presentation of their findings.

The report provides statistical support for a state of affairs that was already well known to those affected.

“If you’re a member of the black community, as I am, this is something that I’ve been seeing for years,” said Mayor Nikuyah Walker at the meeting. “You didn’t need this study in the first place. You have the lived experience of it.”

“What this study does is it documents the problem, it validates the problem,” said Reggie Smith, the director of the project for MGT. “Perceptions and opinions are one thing. But we have done the work and the statistical analysis to say this is not happening by chance.”

Kaki Dimock, the city’s director of human services, said at the council meeting that the report was a “marathon data problem,” the beginning of a “seven- to 10-year process,” and a jumping-off point that “begs a series of additional sets of whys.”

“We do know the why,” Walker responded. “And the why has been apparent since enslavement ended.”

Walker and others were critical of the report’s recommendations for addressing the disparities. The document suggests supporting re-entry programs, increasing transparency in city and county police departments, increasing diversity in law enforcement, conducting additional research, and more. 

“These are things that we have been doing,” Walker said. “The city has been investing millions of dollars into some of these programs.”

A strong Police Civilian Review Board, to provide transparency and  community oversight of the police, is among the report’s recommendations. Charlottesville created an initial CRB  in 2018, and councilors are currently interviewing candidates for a permanent board. Albemarle County does not have a Police Civilian Review Board, and according to the consultants, the county Board of Supervisors has not scheduled a time to formally hear the report.

Charlottesville criminal justice lawyer Jeff Fogel says he feels the report provides valuable data, but he wants more specificity in the plan moving forward.

“I would take a look at all the police officers and what their rates of arrest are in terms of blacks and whites,” Fogel says. Taking a more individualized approach could help determine if the cause of the disparity can be ascribed to specific officers or larger systems.

Councilor Lloyd Snook, a defense attorney, called for similar specificity. “Which judges are doing what? Which judges are worse than others?” Snook asked. 

The study did not identify specific persons at any point in the justice continuum, even though that data could have been made available to the researchers, says Fogel.

“I don’t think we can move forward if we don’t look at the who,” Walker said. “We have to be bold enough to take a look at that.”

The report also doesn’t address the longer-term effects of discriminatory policing, which Fogel would like to see studied. “How many people can’t get jobs because they have a prior record?” the attorney asks. “How many people are not living with their partners because they have a drug offense and they cannot live in public housing? We know if a child’s parent goes to prison, the likelihood of that child going to prison has been multiplied.”

Council will have to decide how much more city money to spend on additional research. 

“One of the big questions I have,” said councilor Michael Payne, “is what does this change? What, if anything, changes in the behavior and policies of the city as a result of this? That’s a question in part for us as a council to resolve.”


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Disparities in punishment are very troubling. But in theory, arrests are broadly based on crimes committed. If we concede that African Americans have suffered as a result of historical and current discrimination,it is certainly possible that African Americans commit more crimes from social illness and damage than other ethnic groups.There is no reason to suppose that crimes (and hence arrests) would be committed on the same basis as population share.