Ar­rests by race ex­am­ined

A re­port finds that black men and women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately ar­rested in Colorado.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul

The first ven­ture at un­der­stand­ing the statewide re­la­tion­ship be­tween race and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem shows black men and women in Colorado were ar­rested or is­sued ci­ta­tions at a dis­pro­por­tion­ate rate last year and were more likely than any other racial or eth­nic group to re­ceive prison sen­tences.

Al­though they rep­re­sent just 4.2 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, a Colorado Divi­sion of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice re­port found that blacks ac­counted for 12.4 per­cent of the ar­rests and sum­monses in 2015. The find­ings also show those ac­cu­sa­tions were more fre­quently for se­ri­ous charges, in­clud­ing as­sault, ag­gra­vated as­sault, homi­cide, rob­bery and weapons-re­lated of­fenses.

The re­port also showed that black ju­ve­niles were more likely than their coun­ter­parts of other races or eth­nic­i­ties to be sen­tenced to the state’s youth de­ten­tion sys­tem.

Ob­servers say the re­view is an im­por­tant step to­ward equity in polic­ing, the court­room and pris­ons, but they cau­tion that a deep anal­y­sis of the find­ings — and pos­si­bly more in­for­ma­tion — is needed to re­ally un­der­stand what the data mean.

“We need to drill down a lit­tle fur­ther and be an­a­lytic and strate­gic about what these statis­tics are show­ing us,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who spon­sored

the leg­is­la­tion that re­quired the data to be gath­ered. “It can show us what leg­isla­tive ac­tion might be nec­es­sary, what train­ing might be nec­es­sary. I think we just need to study the re­sults and see where that drives the next steps. I think data drives in­formed de­ci­sions.”

The find­ings stem from the 2015 Com­mu­nity Law En­force­ment Ac­tion Re­port­ing Act that man­dated anal­y­sis and re­port­ing of racial data pro­vided by Colorado law en­force­ment agen­cies. For the CLEAR Act re­port, which was re­leased Wed­nes­day night in a 74-page ex­am­i­na­tion, more than 325,000 ar­rests, sum­monses, court fil­ings and pa­role-board de­ci­sions were re­viewed.

The data release comes at a time when race and its re­la­tion­ship to crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem are un­der both the na­tional and lo­cal spot­light. The Den­ver Po­lice Depart­ment, for ex­am­ple, is work­ing to de­ter­mine how it will col­lect racial data about the peo­ple of­fi­cers stop af­ter years of say­ing the work would be too dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to im­ple­ment.

“None of the data an­swered ques­tions as to why these dis­par­i­ties oc­cur,” Colorado Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety re­search di­rec­tor Kim English, lead au­thor of the re­port, said in a written state­ment. “This study pro­vides data and anal­y­sis that can serve as a tool for de­ci­sion-mak­ers who are con­tin­u­ally work­ing to make our state’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem work bet­ter for the cit­i­zens it serves.”

The study is an ag­gre­gate of data and does not break down in­for­ma­tion by city, county or the state’s 22 ju­di­cial dis­tricts. Of­fi­cials also cau­tioned that it does not seek to spec­u­late on why such racial dis­par­i­ties ex­ist. The state’s pub­lic safety depart­ment says it is re­spon­si­ble only for putting out the data anal­y­sis, and doesn’t set or en­force pol­icy.

State of­fi­cials also warned that be­cause of how Colorado’s court sys­tem op­er­ates, the re­port’s race and eth­nic­ity data — par­tic­u­larly for His­pan­ics and whites, who could be co-clas­si­fied — for court de­ci­sions should be heeded with cau­tion.

Fields said she spon­sored the CLEAR Act, in part, be­cause her con­stituents in the East Col­fax Av­enue area of Aurora raised con­cerns about over-polic­ing in their com­mu­nity. She said the data in the re­port should act as a light for how to move for­ward and that she hopes every­one — from the state’s top politi­cians, to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers to ev­ery­day cit­i­zens — closely re­view the re­port’s find­ings.

“I think that we should be ap­proach­ing the data with a point of un­der­stand­ing and not to dis­miss what the data tells us,” she said. “If some­one’s al­ready say­ing, ‘I don’t be­lieve it’ and ‘Black peo­ple com­mit more crime,’ then they al­ready have a closed mind-set. We need to look at this data with a fresh set of eyes and dig deep.”

Fields added: “If the data tells us the house is on fire and we say, ‘I don’t think it’s on fire,’ and the house is burn­ing down, then what we are go­ing to have is a house that is burned.”

Denise Maes, pub­lic pol­icy di­rec­tor at the ACLU of Colorado, said the data “un­for­tu­nately con­firms what many in the com­mu­nity thought and sus­pected, which is that all as­pects of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect African-Amer­i­cans.”

Maes said she is es­pe­cially con­cerned about the “very sober­ing” data show­ing the ma­jor sen­tenc­ing dis­crep­ancy for blacks in all kinds of cases, from prop­erty crime to vi­o­lent crime.

“It’s amaz­ing to me and it’s very scary (and) sad that while they are sen­tenced to prison, whites are sen­tenced to de­ferred sen­tences or pro­ba­tion,” she said. “We have such a prob­lem of hav­ing sent so many black men to prison in Colorado, and we are con­tin­u­ing to do it.”

She added: “There are two sides to this coin: Who po­lice of­fi­cers de­cide to stop and ar­rest and who district at­tor­neys de­cide to charge and for what.”

How­ever, Den­ver po­lice deputy Chief Matt Mur­ray said the statewide data re­view is too sim­ple to at­tack a com­plex is­sue.

“We’re not say­ing there’s not an is­sue and peo­ple should not be con­cerned,” he said. “It’s very sim­plis­tic to say po­lice are the only part of this equa­tion. There are a lot of things hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety that im­pact this equa­tion. It’s way more com­pli­cated than just tak­ing pop­u­la­tion data and lay­ing over data that has lots of other fac­tors into play and say­ing, ‘Gee, there is a prob­lem.’ ”

For ex­am­ple, Mur­ray said that in Den­ver, blacks ac­count for 10 per­cent of the city’s pop­u­la­tion but 44 per­cent of the ar­rests for be­ing a felon in pos­ses­sion of a hand­gun. They aren’t be­ing ar­rested be­cause of their race, he says.

“We need to work to­gether and re­ally work and try to an­swer some ques­tions that may not fit our nar­ra­tive,” he said, “and may be un­com­fort­able.”

The state re­port also found that black men and women were less likely than peo­ple of any other race or eth­nic­ity to be re­leased by a pa­role board.

Along gen­der lines, women were more likely than men to re­ceive a de­ferred sen­tence and less likely to re­ceive a jail term. And the re­port said women were “much more” likely to be in­volved in prop­erty crimes than in vi­o­lent crimes or drug of­fenses.

About 50 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion in 2015 was male, but the re­port shows men and boys ac­counted for 70 to 80 per­cent of ar­rests in Colorado.

In 2015, Colorado law en­force­ment made or is­sued more than 200,000 ar­rests and sum­monses, of which 8.4 per­cent were for drug of­fenses, 11.3 per­cent were for vi­o­lent crimes and 15.9 per­cent were for prop­erty of­fenses.

“I think there are note­wor­thy, in­ter­est­ing things here, but I don’t think we can draw any con­clu­sions yet,” said Ge­orge Brauch­ler, 18th Ju­di­cial District at­tor­ney. “This is a great start­ing point for the next set of ques­tions.”

Like Mur­ray, Brauch­ler said he wants to see data that takes into ac­count more fac­tors other than race, such as so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus. Brauch­ler said he works hard to en­sure there is no real or per­ceived racial bias in his of­fice and that he is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to com­mu­nity con­cerns of in­equity in the jus­tice sys­tem.

“If you just look at these straight num­bers, it sug­gests that our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is com­pletely sex­ist against men,” Brauch­ler said. “I just don’t think there is enough here to draw any strong con­clu­sions yet.”

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