Editorial: Police study
Further analysis is warranted in the wake of an anecdotal survey about race and law enforcement.
Although the Lawrence NAACP chapter’s anonymous survey of residents’ interaction with law enforcement is not a scientific assessment, it could be used as the basis for a deeper analysis by local officials of whether race plays a role in how Lawrence residents are treated by police.
Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus, who attended a meeting Friday where the survey was discussed, indicated as much, saying that in order to craft new policies and procedures, specific data would need to be compiled.
The survey was taken by the NAACP chapter in conjunction with American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and featured 169 responses on police stops going back to 2011. The responses involved interactions with 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 were white, 14 percent were black, and American Indians, Asians, Latinos and those of mixed race made up the remaining 23 percent.
The surveys found that blacks are nearly twice as likely to be arrested during a police stop as are whites. 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.
In the surveys, blacks 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. By comparison, whites 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.
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.
Lois Orth-Lopes of the Douglas County ACLU Task Force said the data is an indication that there could be problems that warrant a closer look by local officials. “We’re not Ferguson,” Orth-Lopes said. “But we’re not perfect.”
Orth-Lopes is right; Lawrence is not Ferguson. But in an era where conflicts between police and black residents have been all too common across the country, it behooves Lawrence to take steps to ensure all residents are being treated equally. A scientific analysis of traffic stops and arrests by local law enforcement could provide the data local officials need to determine if changes need to be made.