African Americans far more likely to be arrested, searched and cited by law enforcement, according to local anecdotal survey
Black men and women are far more likely to be arrested, searched, ticketed and cited by Douglas County law enforcement than white men and women, according to results from a recent survey.
In January, Lawrence’s NAACP chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas distributed an anonymous survey asking Douglas County residents to detail their experiences with local law enforcement, good or bad.
The results show a problem in the area, they said.
On Friday, Ursula Minor, president of Lawrence’s NAACP chapter, and Lois Orth-Lopes of the Douglas County ACLU Task Force, offered an analysis of the survey during a public meeting at the Lawrence Public Library.
“We’re not Ferguson,” Orth-Lopes said. “But we’re not perfect.”
In all, 169 surveys were used in the study, offering feedback on police stops going back to 2011, Orth-Lopes said. The stops were conducted by the Lawrence Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and University of Kansas Office of Public Safety.
More than 63 percent of the survey’s respondents are white, while almost 14 percent were black, Orth-Lopes said. Native Americans, Asians, Latinos and those of mixed race made up the majority of the remaining 23 percent.
Often, surveys offered information about more than just one police stop, Orth-Lopes said.
The anecdotal surveys found that African Americans are nearly twice as likely to be arrested during a police stop as their white counterparts, Orth-Lopes said. They’re also nearly twice as likely to receive a citation, just as likely to receive a ticket and half as likely to receive a warning as whites.
African Americans were given warnings 15.2 percent of the time, ticketed 36.4 percent of the time, cited 30.3 percent of the time and arrested 15.2 percent of the time, the data shows for 33 reported police stops.
Whites, however, were given warnings 33.6 percent of the time, ticketed 38.3 percent of the time, cited 16.4 percent of the time and arrested 7 percent of the time, the data shows for 128 reported police stops.
The data is particularly significant, Orth-Lopes said, considering African Americans make up less than 5 percent of the population in Douglas County, compared with the white population’s 82 percent.
In addition, African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be searched during a police stop and a third more likely to feel violated after an encounter with police, Orth-Lopes said.
African Americans were searched 47.8 percent of the time and felt violated 30.4 percent of the time, according to the survey.
And whites were searched 16.8 percent of the time and felt violated 21.5 percent of the time, according to the survey.
Native Americans in the area had similar numbers to the African-American population, Orth-Lopes said. However, meaningful conclusions are more difficult to reach because their sample size was considerably smaller.
While the surveys did turn up some significant data, both Orth-Lopes and Minor said this was not a scientific study. Rather, it was a tool used to get a general sense of police interactions within the county.
Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus attended the meeting Friday afternoon and said the results may warrant a statistical analysis for the city.
The survey’s results, which Markus referred to as anecdotal data, have value, he said. But to craft laws and policies, the city will need more specific information.
Perhaps the first emphasis should be the creation of a community police review board, he said.
During the meeting, Minor also said the community could benefit from such a board to independently examine complaints against law enforcement.
Currently, the Lawrence Police Department has the Citizens’ Review Board for Fair and Impartial Policing. But that board does not accept complaints on its own. Instead the complaints must be submitted to the police department or to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, where they will be investigated and then passed to the board for further review.
Since the board’s founding, none of the racial profiling complaints it has reviewed have been substantiated.
Orth-Lopes said now, with the recent survey’s results, she is no longer willing to accept that local police “don’t have any complaints.”
With the current system Minor said there are concerns about police investigating their own departments. This is especially a problem when so many people are too afraid of police retaliation to file a formal complaint, she said.
When given surveys, Minor said, many said they were afraid to share, even though the process was anonymous.
“People still felt like there would be retaliation if they filled out a survey,” she said. “They would talk to us, but they would not put it on paper in any form.”
Involving a completely independent organization in the investigation process would alleviate many of those concerns, she said.
And while local police should continue to accept complaints, the process could be improved, Minor said. Currently, the Lawrence Police Department’s process requires identifying information from the complainant, again raising issues about retribution.
The complaints are also only available online and must be printed out and turned in physically or by mail, she said. This detail is significant when considering that not everybody has access to a computer or a printer.
Alongside the other changes Minor said she would like to see are local police recording and collecting data for every single stop, no matter the reason.
Minor and Orth-Lopes said they have not yet discussed the survey’s results with police. First they wanted to make the findings public. However, whenever they’ve approached police in the past they’ve been met with professionalism and open minds, they said.
Representatives from the Lawrence Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the survey’s results because they had not yet had a chance to examine the data.