Lies, Damn Lies, and…

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I’m going to use this opportunity to discuss two groups of criminal justice statistics that have been regularly quoted in recent days as evidence of institutional racism within the St. Louis County area. The first group is traffic stop data. The second group is hiring data.

The picture featured above is a still from the dash-cam footage of the murder of a Deputy Kyle Dinkheller in Georgia.  I won’t go into the specifics of that case nor will I post a link to the full footage because it is very traumatic.  If you feel so inclined, the footage is widely available.  I’m using that image because there is almost no better example of a traffic stop that has gone wrong.  A lot of officers think about this stop every time they pull someone over.  When conducting a traffic stop, most officers are far more preoccupied with preventing this type of scenario than worrying about the race of the driver.

Some House Keeping

Monday night was largely an average night in St. Louis County.  There was a shooting in North County near Bel-Ridge, but there was no looting or rioting in Ferguson.  For the time being, it seems that matters may have temporarily calmed down, though to be fair there’s very little left to loot along the W. Florissant corridor.  Everyone is waiting for the grand jury to come to a conclusion one way or another.  The threat of “war” is still very much present with many on social media indicating that things will be much worse next time than before if Darren Wilson is not indicted.

Traffic stop data

The biggest problem with racial profiling data, which is collected by police departments by law, is that the measure is a comparison between vehicle stops and residency. While at face value these two items may seem related, in actuality traffic stops are a function of what is on the roadway as opposed to who lived in a residence during the last census.

In the case of one specific jurisdiction I won’t name, a city had the interstate running through it and their through-traffic contained a much more diverse population than their local residents. Interestingly, if a town has ten (10) total residents and only one (1) black resident, yet stop (4) black people on the interstate out of ten total stops, the frequency of black residents is 10% but the percentage of black people stopped for traffic is 40%. Can a racial motivation be drawn given that the proportions being compared don’t actually relate to each other?

Furthermore, the racial makeup of an area is usually gleamed from census data. Census data is only collected every ten years. In lower socioeconomic areas and/or areas with primarily rental properties, the likelihood that census data is even remotely accurate from year to year in between the census is extremely unlikely. To be fair, individuals in lower socioeconomic areas might be under-reported as well due to residential turnover, but the point is less about over or under reporting and more a criticism of the entire measure in terms of accuracy.

As far as traffic stops in general go, persons from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are much more likely to be stopped due simply to the financial burden of keeping their vehicle street legal. I would expect that for most people when given the option of having food or paying rent versus keeping their license plates up to date, they would opt for the first category. For whatever it’s worth, the result is that there are more reasons to stop persons from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, not because of racial profiling, but because they are more likely to be driving a vehicle that stands out in multiple ways as being probable cause of a traffic offense.

Is socioeconomic status a problem caused by institutional racism? Quite possibly, but the police and racial profiling are not the cause of positive or negative socioeconomic status. Racial profiling data makes no reference to either the perceived socioeconomic status of the driver nor the residential socioeconomic status of the neighborhoods and racial demographics being compared.

Furthermore, areas of lower socioeconomic status are typically associated with higher levels of crime. Police are encouraged to make more stops in higher crime areas, search more cars in higher crime areas, and conduct themselves in a generally more proactive manner in these same areas. If the lower socioeconomic population in a high crime area happens to be any specific race, that race is going to be stopped much more often. Of course, this phenomenon can be just as evident in a town like Ferguson that has a black population of 67% as it can be evident in a town in Southeast Missouri that has a white population of 97%. White people in trailer parks overrun with meth-labs believe they are being stopped and hassled by the police too much as well. Whatever one’s opinion might be on enforcement or crime control strategy, racial profiling statistics continue to be an invalid measure.

The most egregious problem with racial profiling statistics is that, due to the inaccuracy of the measure, truly racist cops are not identified. I will be the first to admit that there are racist cops out there, truly scum of the earth, but they won’t be removed from the road using this data. To me personally, the problem is that cops in general are perceived by default to be racist and accused of acting based upon race so much so that the scariest minority of officers that should have their badges removed are able to hide behind the constant refrain of the boy who cried “racism.”

What’s more, even if a jurisdiction was blatantly racist in the way they conduct traffic stops, how is one to make the leap that willingness to inconvenience or harass a group of people due to prejudice is in any way comparable to wanting to kill them? The argument has been repeated in the last several days that officers kill young black men too often but there is never any discussion of whether or not these shootings were truly justified. Are all of these examples of white officers shooting black men truly unjustified shootings? It’s impossible to say and statistics would indicate it’s supremely unlikely that every white cop who shoots a black male was justified to do so. However, it is just as impossible to say that the shootings are always unjustified. All we have to fall back on, in terms of crimes committed by the public and crimes committed by officers, is the constitutional reliance on due process guaranteed by the fifth amendment. In other words, the standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is interesting to note that the same people, continually bringing up the statistics of black men killed during interactions with the police, fail to bring up statistics of officers killed or injured which show that around 43% of all officers murdered between 2003-2012 were murdered by black males. The 51% that were killed by white males shouldn’t be discounted either, but the framers of the initial argument want to discuss this topic in reference to proportionality. 15% of the US population is black with far fewer than that being black males. Even if the 15% was assumed to all be males, 15% is still a far cry from 43%.

Of course, in reference to the Mike Brown shooting, even if one was able to prove institutional racism, that still doesn’t prove that Darren Wilson was himself racist. As evidenced above, racial profiling stats are a poor gauge of actual racist attitudes and racially motivated police action. However, just because other officers act a certain a way, it doesn’t mean that Wilson had to act the same way as well. Mike Brown’s death doesn’t presuppose racism either though that allegation has been made repeatedly. Even if the shooting was unjustified, this isn’t a zero sum game that Wilson was either a racist or Mike Brown was a brute. It’s entirely plausible, though too early to tell with the inconsistent data available, that Wilson might have been scared due to a physical altercation not warranting deadly force and overreacted making the shooting unjustified but not a function of racism at all. A white person can be scared of a black person or vice versa without that fear having to be based upon the skin color of the other.

Hiring Data

I discussed the call for more black officers in my first post Dissonance. What has developed since 8/10/2014, has been another mind bending argument in favor of residential proportionality.

First and foremost, discriminating against applicants based upon race is inherently wrong. Any administrator that removes anyone from a hiring pool based upon the color of their skin is a terrible person and should be fired immediately. However, there is a natural problem of proving that discriminatory hiring practices are occurring. What’s more, there has been zero discussion about the number of minority candidates applying to the City of Ferguson or other proportionally challenged police departments. It’s hard for hiring practices to be racist if minorities are not applying for the position in the first place.

Unfortunately, there’s a logical gap between the assertion that institutional racism is rampant in Ferguson to the conclusion that hiring more black cops will solve the problem. What’s more, due to the proportion issue, the push is only for Black Cops and not Minority Cops. To push for the hiring of any group of officers based upon the color of their skin, and not the content of their character, is to make several inherently racist assumptions:

  1. White cops are either racist or more racist than Black Cops.
  2. Black cops are not racist or less racist than whites or other minorities.
  3. Non-black minority cops are more racist than Black Cops.

Making any assumption about an entire group of people based upon the color of their skin is, by definition, racist. What’s more, firing officers simply by virtue of their skin color in order to meet a racial quota is not only racist but also illegal. A number of Vinita Park, MO. officers received pretty hefty settlements after the mayor was recorded bragging about how he got rid of all the white officers and replaced them with black officers, some of which apparently had criminal records.

http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2013-05-16/news/vinita-park-race-relations-mayor-james-mcgee/full/

Why is there only a push for racial proportionality between residents and officers?

Why is the push not to eliminate racist officers?

Why use an argument, like the one in favor of proportionality, when there are plenty of other non-black minorities who could relate to the plight of black people in North St. Louis County?

One more thing:  Let’s talk about The City of Jennings for a moment

Jennings Crime Stats:

http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Jennings-Missouri.html

Darren Wilson, whether guilty of a racist killing, or of defending himself, is now being accused of being fired for being a part of a racist crooked department that was dissolved within the city of Jennings, MO. This story is not accurate. The St. Louis County Police takeover of law enforcement in the city of Jennings, is quite a bit more complicated. However, it’s less complicated when the city need only financially account for a county contract and not personnel, pensions, benefits, gear/supplies, vehicle maintenance and gas, legal defense inherent in police work, and training.

North St. Louis County municipalities, and the police departments they represent, are largely marred in crime as well as personnel issues representative of poor areas unable to provide competitive salaries as well as small hiring pools requiring administrators to look the other way on backgrounds that might not be the most ideal for policing. Interestingly, there are a number of larger municipalities in the area that pay more and had a fairly good reputation. Until a few weeks ago, Ferguson PD was actually an example of one of those agencies.

As far as Jennings is concerned, the poor city government was unable to provide for the type of adequate agency needed to police an area as dangerous as Jennings.   While there were in fact allegations of misconduct throughout the city, these were largely not the reason for the County take over. Most notably, we are in fact talking about the same St. Louis County Police Department that everyone has been so readily criticizing during the last several weeks.

What’s more, Jennings borders Ferguson along W. Florissant road. There is no wall that prevents bleed over from Jennings into Ferguson. The media has been attempting to depict the Ferguson area as one distinct safe small town, but the truth is that the municipal structure of small cities throughout the entire county is fluid and representative of a larger body instead of small independent subsets. Was Ofc. Wilson fired from Jennings? No. That distinction is a lie. Was Ofc. Wilson guilty of murdering Mike Brown? I don’t know, but that conclusion has nothing to do with Jennings. He was laid off in this case regardless of his guilt or innocence in the killing of Mike Brown.

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5 thoughts on “Lies, Damn Lies, and…

  1. I think I have read all of your posts on the riots in Ferguson. Thank you for sharing your actual experiences from the ground. I have a dear friend that was an officer for 32 years. I worried about him everyday for 25 of those years. I pray that you continue to be safe and look forward to your next post. You have a great writing style. Thanks again for all that you do.

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  2. Thank you for this blog. I’ve worked in the public eye and have a great deal of empathy for what you do. I will continue to read because your perspective is unique and informative. I respect it. I also know you are part of a very complicated system of law enforcement. (many small municipalities over a relatively small area) and that is difficult to understand as an outsider..
    I was thinking some of what you are saying here is reasonable, but I also grew up in rural area (poor) and officers tended to give out a lot of warnings (which also had a paper trail.) rather than issue tickets and arrest warrants. It was simply more effective and allowed officers to focus on more serious crimes and spend less time in court.
    Even in the small city I’ve lived in today for 15 years, I’ve received two warnings rather than tickets for minor traffic violations. Could have gone either way, but I was given the benefit of the doubt and learned something useful in both situations.
    I’m sure there are reasons unique to your location and population why my experiences differ from the reports out of Ferguson.
    Today there was this article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/09/03/how-st-louis-county-missouri-profits-from-poverty/?hpid=z2) which explained how things could get out of control quickly as a person with a minor infraction could be stopped multiple times for the same infraction on the single ride home as they crossed municipal lines.
    Even if that’s the exception and not the rule,that’s kinda nuts.
    No response necessary. I wanted to give you a heads up on the article because on my Twitter feed it’s getting a lot of attention.
    Keep writing, good luck and stay safe. The fact that you write about this gives me hope.

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  3. From this post: “To push for the hiring of any group of officers based upon the color of their skin, and not the content of their character, is to make several inherently racist assumptions:” I think one more assumption is that people of color will react better, and interact better, with police officers of the same color. Judging by the St. Louis Post Dispatch interview with an African American sergeant of the Ferguson Police Department, I’m not convinced that’s true. There are other small municipalities that have African American Officers, and we’ve seen stories on the local TV news relating their crime fighting efforts against, guess who, African Americans. Have a matched racial makeup between police officers or mayors or boards of aldermen and constituents is not going to change the constituents behavior, in my opinion.

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