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Black Residents Disproportionately Arrested in Albany: Audit

An external audit found that Black residents are more likely to be arrested and have force used against them. The report stops short of connecting the behavior to racial discrimination, but it suggests it as a possibility.

(TNS) — An external audit focused on potential racial bias within the Albany, N.Y., city police department found that Black residents are disproportionately arrested compared to other city residents.

A draft of the audit, obtained by the Times Union, also showed that Black residents are more likely to be charged with resisting arrest, have force used against them and file civil rights complaints against the city.

But the audit stopped short of blaming the discrepancies on bias within the department or among individual officers, noting that a combination how the department collects information and the lack of information on individual police stops made it impossible to determine the exact cause of the disparities. Instead, the report concludes the city should investigate further.

"Without details about the circumstances of the arrests, we cannot say with certainty that this difference is entirely the result of race or bias, but these results are suggestive of those possibilities," the draft states. The audit by CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, also examined issues around officer training, community policing and other internal operations.

City Auditor Dorcey Appylrs hired the firm in August for $80,000 as part of a larger city review of its police department and its policies. That review is required by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive order that says municipalities must do comprehensive reviews of their police departments and develop plans to reform them. Cuomo issued the order amid the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd of Minneapolis by police officers.

The audit's 62 findings and accompanying recommendations are expected to provide the city with a baseline of information as part of the reform process. It does not contain any written comment from city officials. Over the next week, auditors will collect comments from the public before the final version is released through Applyrs. Auditors will then present their findings in a series of meetings with the Common Council, Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Chief Eric Hawkins, as well as the department's command staff and the general public.

A likely focus of those presentations will be data related to traffic stops that result in arrests, and arrests in general. About 30 percent of city residents are Black, 50 percent are white, 10 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are Asian. The audit found that from 2015 to 2019, roughly 65 percent of those arrested due to traffic stops were Black, while roughly 25 percent were white drivers.

But auditors said the department's data collection practices made it difficult to blame racial bias. Officers use three databases to file the result of the stop — depending on if it was a warning, citation or an arrest — and not all of them require officers to file the subject's race or ethnicity.

Black residents also made up 64 percent of all arrests in the city during the 2015-2019 timeframe, compared to 27 percent for white residents and roughly 6 percent for Hispanic residents.

During that period, both arrests and traffic stops in general dropped. Traffic stops in the city fell from 7,283 in 2015 to 2,469 in 2019; arrests fell from over 5,100 to less than 1,000 in 2019, according to police department data cited in the audit. It's unclear why both numbers fell so far, but the audit notes that some patrol officers said they saw traffic stops as the responsibility of the traffic unit.

A similar disparity exists in data on resisting-arrest charges. Auditors noted that community members they interviewed said they were concerned the department charged residents with resisting arrest during incidents where no other arrests were being made and that the practice targeted what are referred to in the report as "minority community members."

During the 2015-1019 time frame, the department filed 124 resisting arrest charges, with more than 79 percent of those filed against Black people. White residents made up 16.9 percent of resisting arrest charges and Hispanics just 2.4 percent.

But again, the auditors said they could not prove that was the result of bias — though the results suggested that it was — and recommended the city examine the issue further.

Another area auditors explored for racial bias was in the department's use of force and civil rights lawsuits filed against the city. The findings there were less complete because the department suffered a data loss that erased all records around use of force and complaints from 2018.

Auditors found that roughly 62 percent of incidents involving force involved Black people, compared to 22 percent of incidents involving white people.

When it came to filing civil rights lawsuits, Black residents filed more of them but their lawsuits tended to remain pending in litigation longer than lawsuits filed by other city residents. When those lawsuits were settled, they tended to result in higher awards for Black plaintiffs.

Of the 48 lawsuits examined by auditors, 63 percent were filed by Black plaintiffs, compared to 21 percent by white plaintiffs. The average settlement to a Black plaintiff was $129,500, compared to $6,800 for white plaintiffs.

The audit has recommendations accompanying many of its findings, including those that praise the department for using best practices in some areas.

Others reflect longstanding complaints about the department that the city has recognized and promised to fix, including the fact that its demographics do not reflect the city's racial makeup.

Auditors noted two specific areas that officers they interviewed wanted more training in: high-risk traffic stops and de-escalation techniques.

Other recommendations reflect internal concerns, such as promotional practices and the effectiveness of various community programs the department operates or participates in.

Some recommendations track with legislation the Common Council proposed earlier this year, including a measure that would require the department to track demographic data on traffic stops.

Auditors also highlighted the department's commitment to community policing while pointing out its shortcomings. Officers interview for the audit said they believed community policing was the responsibility of the Neighborhood Engagement Unit. The audit said that unit was also short-staffed and, in some officers' eyes, seen as a cushy assignment.

Community members, meanwhile, told auditors the department's community engagement efforts tended to be spotty.

"This commitment is not present throughout the agency, and the community does not feel APD genuinely connects with community members in a substantive manner," the auditors wrote. "There is a clear disconnect between APD's intentions, policy, and leadership and the experience of the community."

Also pursuant to Cuomo's order, the city has embarked on broad-based effort, the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, with an April 2021 deadline to submit its proposals for change.

(c)2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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