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No Racial ‘Profiling Problem’, But SPD Forms Committee Anyway

Race and Police group
Paige Browning
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Spokane Public Radio

Spokane police have reacted quickly to a new report that shows racial disproportion in the rate of arrests. The police department (SPD) and the city’s multicultural affairs committee have formed a work-group to address why people of color are arrested at higher rates.

A police captain and EWU associate professor collaborated to write the report ‘Officer Contacts With Civilians and Race in the City of Spokane’. They explain four primary findings: force is used in 0.3% of police contacts; reasons for arrest are even throughout racial groups; there is no racial bias in deciding who to arrest; and although no bias exists, there was a racial disproportion in arrests.

Among their findings, they explain numbers show no racial bias by police in deciding who to arrest, but there is a racial disproportion in arrests. In his response, Police Chief Frank Straub was adamant that Spokane Police do not have a racial profiling problem.

Straub: “We’ve only looked at 7,000 incidents that suggest only that there is disproportionality when you compare the number of African Americans in our community and the number of contacts, the number of Native Americans in our community and the number of contacts.”

Spokane Police
Credit Spokane Police
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From Report on Officer Contacts with Civilians, Race: https://my.spokanecity.org/police/news/2015/03/19/ewu-spd-release-report-on-officer-contacts-with-civilians-race/

The data breaks down percents in Spokane’s population versus percents of arrest or other police contact. African Americans are 2.5 percent of population and more than six percent of contacts, Native Americans are less than two percent of population but three percent of contacts, and whites are 87 percent of population but 84 percent of police contacts.

Straub says people of color are more likely to have contact with police because of a combination of police practices and societal factors. The work-group will aim to find out if that’s true. Sandy Williams, from Eastern Washington University and the state commission of African American Affairs, is one of nine members.

Williams: “The perception, I can tell you truthfully in the African American community, is that there is biased based policing. So therein lies the problem, I think, is we need to figure out what’s going on. So is there in fact biased based policing or is the perception wrong? So I speak for a community that says we’re uncomfortable because we’re not so sure that the data is accurate.”

The work-group will start meeting in April. The report covered five months of police data, and the authors will release another seven months of data in the fall.

Copyright 2015 Spokane Public Radio

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