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.

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