NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A new report is recommending a series of reforms to the New Bedford Police Department after analyzing data given to them by the police department that allegedly shows racial disparities in policing.
The report was released by the non-profit independent organization, “Citizens for Juvenile Justice,” which is based in Boston.
The organization’s two lead researchers, Joshua Dankoff and Leon Smith, explained their findings, which they said were based on two sets of data from the police department between January 2015 and June 2020. They detailed the research and their recommendations in a Zoom Wednesday night.
The Zoom was a community conversation co-sponsored by the YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts, Coalition for Racial Justice, New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, NAACP New Bedford Chapter, as well as other community organizations. Also in attendance was outgoing New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro.
YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts Board Member Lindsay Carter-Monteiro put the report into context, starting the meeting by saying, “After the death of George Floyd, the YWCA held a community conversation which provided residents a safe space to express their feelings, emotions and concerns about what needed to be done to achieve meaningful change in our New Bedford community. From these conversations, the YWCA created racial justice working groups by identifying priority issues that the community felt needed change. Criminal justice was one of the topics for the working groups.”
The two sets of data used for the findings were from field incident report data and gang member data. The field incident report data looked at everything from encounters, interrogations, and officer’s observations (such as suspicious activity on social media). That data included 2,210 separate incidents and 4,997 individuals. The researchers took issue with the gang member data, saying police did not notify people when they were added to the gang member list, and there was no way of people on that list to appeal the label given to them.
“If you just take one chart to remember from this presentation, this is probably it,” Dankoff said as he presented “Finding 3” in his report. The graphs show a stark contrast between field incidents involving white people and people of color.
“Although making up 61% of the overall population, 34% of the individuals stopped were white. By contrast, black people, who make up only 7% of the population, make up 46% of the field incident reports and the large majority of those individuals were male,” Dankoff continued. “For context, and when we run the numbers and sort of normalize this, we see that black people are nearly 13 times more likely to be subject of a field incident report than their white counterparts. Non-black Hispanics, though making up a slightly smaller number than their overall population, when compared with whites in the City, Hispanics are just over twice as likely to be involved in a police-related incident as white.”
The researchers also said that they found a small number of New Bedford Police officers were responsible for most of the field incident reports. There were 186 officers who conducted incident reports, but just ten officers were responsible for 46% of them.
Additionally, the researchers say, the five officers who filed the most incident reports had reports with people that were between 77% and 84% Black or Hispanic. To put that in context, the researchers said, the City of New Bedford has a population that is less than 30% Black or Hispanic.
“Whenever there are issues impacting communities, it is absolutely imperative that individuals in those communities who are directly impacted are heard and have a voice that is central to fixing and addressing those issues,” Smith said.
After presenting the findings, the researchers detailed at least 19 recommendations for reform, which they said were based on conversations with youth and others in the city. Some of the key recommendations included changing the way officers are trained.
Dankoff and Smith said youth felt they weren’t respected. Others were concerned that police officers living in public housing made them feel they were always under surveillance. Residents also reported a desire for officers to wear body cameras, according to the study.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell released a statement in response saying, “Although the report has not been shared with my office, and I am not familiar with the organization that authored it, its findings, as we understand them, warrant our attention.”
The Citizens for Juvenile Justice said they put out public records requests to police departments in 15 Massachusetts communities, but have so far only heard back from New Bedford.
They hope to do comparative studies between police departments when they have more widespread data.