Big Surprise :roll:"We determined that the study was statistically flawed,"
The problem is perception for PD and profiling
Council to hear report next week
By David Still II
When a Northeastern study into traffic citations across the state placed the Town of Barnstable's Police department in the top tier of departments for racially imbalanced enforcement, town officials wanted to know why. So did Police Chief John Finnegan.
Within short order after the release of the study last May, a committee of citizens and town officials was established to look at the report and the data that supported it. On the committee are Finnegan; town councilor Harold Tobey; John Reed of Hyannis and president of the Cape Cod Chapter of the NAACP; Carlos Barbosa as a representative from the Brazilian community; and attorney John Kenney, who serves on the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce's government relations committee. Also serving are officers Jonathan Pass and Therese Gallant; Detective Kevin Connolly, the department's information systems person; and Sgt. Scott McMahon, who received his master's degree at Northeastern working with the Northeastern professor who oversaw the study. In the May 2004 report, Barnstable was one of 15 town in the state above the disparity threshold in all four categories checked against (see below). What the Barnstable committee discovered early on was that the data used in the study was not, and essentially could not, be accurate, Finnegan said. The report and its authors could not accurately account for Barnstable's high seasonal influx of people.
"We determined that the study was statistically flawed," Finnegan said. At the same time that regardless of what the accuracy of the data, the perception that there was a racial imbalance in enforcement by the Barnstable Police Department was evident. The bulk of the committee's work, according to Finnegan, was to draft a plan that the department will implement to help change those perceptions.
"The problem is perception," Finnegan said.
These points will be covered in what Finnegan expects to be a brief presentation to the town council next week. Finnegan said that the report will be about the steps the department will take, not simply recommendations. The unifying theme to all of the planned action is education. Finnegan said that in many cases, the actions of police officers during traffic stops are misinterpreted as hostile, when it is part of the training on how to approach any traffic stop. Among the points highlighted by the chief is "aggressive recruitment" of minority officers. The department will continue to have to work within the framework of the state's civil service act, an exam-based recruitment and promotion system.
Some of this outreach work has already started, the chief said. In a meeting held at a Brazilian church, Finnegan said that about 300 members of the town's large Brazilian community attended. He said that while the issues faced by the Brazilian community may be different because of immigration issues, Finnegan said that it is important that the department have open and obvious lines of communications.
Among the other areas of focus will be youth programs through the department, and active recruitment of minorities into the department's Citizens Police Academy.
"We feel … that as long as the perception exists we have to work to eliminate that," Finnegan said.
About the Study
The study was conducted by Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice. It came as a response to a law passed in 2000 that required a listing of state police units or municipalities that appeared to have engaged in racial or gender profiling. The data used for the study came from the Registry of Motor Vehicles and consisted of traffic citations and written warnings. The study examined the existence of racial and gender disparities in approximately 1.6 million traffic citations issued between April 1, 2001 and June 30, 2003.
The citations analyzed were issued by the Massachusetts State Police, 340 municipal police departments and 25 other special police units. The study sought to answer four questions about the data:
1. Are non-white drivers who are residents in a community cited more often than their representation in the residential population would predict?
2. Are non-white drivers overall cited more often their representation in the population of people driving on the roadways would predict?
3. Once stopped, are non-white drivers more likely to be subject to a search than white drivers?
4. Once stopped, are non-white drivers more likely to receive a citation than white drivers?