Monday, November 24, 2014

Tempe, Scottsdale arrest blacks at a higher rate than the Ferguson PD

Truly shocking numbers were released today in a USA Today report detailing the massive disparities in arrest rates for blacks compared to, well, everyone else. In the Valley, Tempe and Scottsdale police stood out for particular distinction, with starkly high figures per capita.

The USA Today analysis of arrest records for police departments across the country found that almost 1600 police agencies nationwide took blacks into custody at rates above those in Ferguson, Missouri, the city well-known now for aggressive and racist policing following the shooting of Michael Brown and the turmoil that resulted.

According the the article, blacks were "more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime. Nationwide, black people are arrested at higher rates for crimes as serious as murder and assault, and as minor as loitering and marijuana possession." If you're not black, you're more likely to escape arrest for comparable crimes. Notably, the data, which came from the FBI, does not track arrests of Latinos, which in the Southwest is a major shortcoming. That number would be very good to have.

Of particular note, two Valley police agencies, Tempe and Scottsdale, not only have arrest rates for blacks higher than Ferguson, but take blacks into custody at more than double (triple in the case of Scottsdale) that which has set the Missouri city on fire with accusations of police harassment of a black population by white police agency.


Tempe, this year found itself embroiled in controversy when ASU professor Dr. Ore, who is black, was stopped off campus by a white university cop. The stop, which many viewed as unnecessary, aggressive and racially-motivated, set off a media firestorm and enraged many residents of the college town, some of whom took their anger to a Tempe city council candidates forum, disrupting the event.

Tempe, which likes to brand itself as a progressive city despite its history as a Klan bastion, will have a hard time making the case that these numbers don't indicate a serious problem for a police force that many see as out of control. While Ferguson's arrest rate for blacks was 186.1 (versus 66 for whites) out of a thousand, Tempe's came in at a staggering 405.5! Anglos, on the other hand, got arrested at a rate of 120 per 1000 in Tempe, still almost twice that of Ferguson but over a third less frequently than blacks. If you're black, Tempe PD has its eyes on you.

Tempe police have come under scrutiny lately as a result of a program called "Safe and Sober", which involves upwards of 20 police agencies flooding downtown with officers, making thousands of stops of all kinds, ostensibly to battle alcohol consumption. Locals report harassment and profiling.

The city hasn't released final numbers on this years' program (which has run for two years now) -- including data on the race of those people that were stopped -- but numbers like those compiled by USA Today lend support to suspicions that racial bias is very likely at work. Back of the envelop calculations by local activists put the rate of stops during the three weeks that "Safe and Sober" runs in Tempe at per capita levels comparable to NYC's highly controversial "Stop and Frisk" program, which was ruled racially biased this year.


The City of Tempe has suffered a series of public black eyes around the issue of policing in the last couple years. In 2013, during the first year of "Safe and Sober," local cops gunned down Austin Del Castillo in broad daylight in downtown Tempe, sending bullets into a nearby restaurant.  Before that, in May of the same year, Tempe police opened fire on a man who had broken into the wine cellar of a local restaurant downtown. Then there was the Dr. Ore incident. In July, Tempe police were caught on video beating a homeless man, again on Mill Avenue downtown. An internal review by the police of the police ruled the violence justified, although they admitted that proper procedure wasn't followed when officers failed to file the use of force paperwork that should accompany such incidents. Tempe has also raised concerns by failure to come clean on their possession and use of a StingRay cell phone spy device and whether and how that is being used to snoop on residents.

Critics of the Ferguson PD point to giant disparities between the percentage of cops who are white on the force compared to the general population. A recent NY Times article. "The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments", highlighted these discrepancies in several departments nationwide, including half a dozen in Arizona. The study didn't give stats for Tempe, but it did show clearly that whites were over-represented in all the Valley departments surveyed, sometimes skewing (in the case of the Phoenix Police Department) as much as 35% more white than the local population they police. The Phoenix PD, by the way, ranked in the USA TODAY study at 220.5 for blacks, and 77.6 for everyone else. Incidentally, the city with the smallest gap between population and police, demographically, was Scottsdale. But that was only because Scottsdale is 84% white. There isn't much room to go higher than that, although SPD does manage to still put 6% more whites on their force than the general population.

Changing the racial makeup of the police force won't solve the problem of police brutality and profiling, but the fact that they are so out of whack with the general population again gives cause to believe, combined with those radically skewed arrest stats, that profiling is probably going on. And a lot of it.

We asked TPD if use of force paperwork was 
filed in the above case and they never replied

This data also shows how little things have changed in the Valley. Tempe and Scottsdale, both historically "sundown towns" where nonwhites were strongly encouraged, to put it mildly, to make themselves scarce when nightfall came, obviously still put a heavy emphasis on the policing of blacks within city limits. As troubling as Tempe's outrageous data is, Scottsdale's is even more disturbing. It wasn't that long ago that scandal wracked the SPD when it came out that some officers were enforcing what they called a "no n*gger zone" in the wealthier parts of a generally very well-off city. These stats show an inexcusable gulf between the policing that blacks and everybody else gets in Scottsdale.

Either way, if you're black in Scottsdale and Tempe you have good reason to worry about the police. Just like Dr. Ore, you may very well find yourself attracting the special attention of local law enforcement, for no other reason than your skin color. Perhaps data like this is the reason why Tempe has been so reluctant to release the racial breakdown of the "Safe and Sober" stops. But that's all the more reason why they should.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

National League of Cities Prepares to Pressure Congress for More Military Equipment

As an expected grand jury decision could arrive this week in the case of the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing black Ferguson resident Michael Brown.  Brown, who was  unarmed when confronted by officer Wilson, died after being shot six times.  Brown's killing triggered long existing tensions between police and the residents, resulting in riots, and then protests in Ferguson. The rebellion in Ferguson also sparked a national debate in response to the images of the police and how the military grade weapons and equipment used to quash the protests got into the hands of the police.

The militarized show of force in the small community of Ferguson shattered any illusions that it was only the major cities that relied on such equipment. The proliferation of military equipment and weapons into small town police departments could be traced to America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had its origins in the drug war hysteria of the late 1980s.  This movement of surplus military goods from the US military to police departments, both big and small, is run out of the Defense Logistics Agency's the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or more commonly known as the 1033 program.

This program faced a critical review from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of the Ferguson rebellion, with senators questioning why the Department of Defense continues to provide used, and often new weapons to local police departments.  Despite the increased coverage from journalists, outrage from protesters, and scrutiny from senators, the program is not without its supporters (principally law enforcement) and the advocacy group the National League of Cities may be joining them.

The National League of Cities (NLC) is an advocacy group for more than "19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents," and one of the key tasks of the NLC is to influence federal policy by lobbying Congress.  The NLC will be holding the Congress of Cities, their annual conference, later this month in Austin, Texas.  Among the resolutions up for a vote during the meeting is a pro-1033 program resolution passed by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) Steering Committee during their annual meeting held in Tempe this past September.

The resolution supporting the 1033 program takes into account that the majority of the equipment received from the Department of Defense are "non-military" items, such as office equipment, computers and recording gear, and other supplies for disaster response.  However, the resolution makes note of the criticisms raised over the transfer of specifically military hardware, such as "Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, aircraft (rotary and fixed wing), boats, sniper scopes and M-16s."

While these concerns are noted, the resolution highlights the use of military equipment in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and "other incidents where police officers have been under attack by heavily armed criminals." The resolution concludes by supporting increased pressure on the Presidential administration and Congress to "ensure local law enforcement agencies continue to have access to the 1033 program." The PSCP Steering Committee approved the resolution, as confirmed in an email response from Yucel Ors, the NLC's Program Director of Public Safety & Crime Prevention. Ors explained that the next step is for the resolution to be voted on by the full membership of the PSCP committee, then, if passed, it will face a final vote by the NLC's membership during the annual meeting.

There is much to worry about for the residents of Ferguson in the coming days.  Amnesty International denounced the human rights abuses committed by the assembled law enforcement agencies against those protesting the police.  Ferguson residents ready for the repressive police presence, comparing the possible upheaval from the grand jury decision as akin to "getting prepared for war."  Ferguson police are indeed also gearing up for war, preparing to turn the city streets of Ferguson into a war zone once again, having spent $100,000 on new helmets, shields and batons, in addition to restocking their supplies of pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets.  If the NLC's membership approves the 1033 resolution this month, then they will have joined the side of the domestic militarists in working to persuade Congress to keep the flow of military weapons and gear into police agencies for the foreseeable future.