AUBURN — The city of Auburn arrests black people at a higher rate of disparity than any other city in Maine — and higher than the rate in Ferguson, Mo., according to a USA Today analysis.

African-Americans are arrested in Auburn at four times the rate of other races, according to a news release circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Wednesday.

However, Auburn police Chief Philip Crowell said his department monitors arrest numbers and disparity issues in a yearly Biased-Based Profiling Review.

“We strictly prohibit any bias-based profiling,” the chief said.

He said police in Auburn arrested 65 white suspects per 1,000 citizens in 2012. The number of blacks arrested per 1,000, Crowell said, was seven.

“It’s easy to skew the numbers,” he said of the USA Today report.

“We do more than just look at arrest data,” Crowell said. “We take a look at all enforcement issues.”

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte lashed out at the ACLU of Maine for not contacting Auburn officials to discuss the numbers.

“Sending a misinformed press release that inflames racial tensions when the men and women of the Auburn police engage daily in our neighborhoods with those of all races is unfortunate,” LaBonte said.
 
According to the USA Today report, which is based on FBI records from 2011-12, more than 1,500 police departments around the country arrest blacks at a rate higher — some as much as 10 times higher — than those in Ferguson, a city that has fallen under the spotlight in recent months. A white police officer in that city fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in August.

Ferguson, Mo., arrests black people at a rate three times higher than non-black people, according to the report.

In Maine, all police departments included in the analysis showed significant race gaps in arrests: In South Portland, blacks are 3.5 times as likely as non-blacks to be arrested; in Bangor, 3.2 times; in Lewiston, 2.8 times; and in Portland 2.6 times.

“What this analysis shows us very clearly is that racial disparities don’t just exist in other places or just in Ferguson, Mo.,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “They exist right here in Maine, right now.”

She said many questions remain unanswered and a lot of work remains to be done.

“We know that across the country and in Maine, whites and blacks use marijuana at the same rates,” she said. “Yet, (blacks) are arrested at four times the rate for drug use. That suggests that the problem is not really criminality, but rather a racial bias in the system.”

She added, “We don’t have all the answers on why the arrest rates are higher in certain cities across Maine. What we do know, though, is it’s just time to dig deeper, to have more conversation and to really get to the bottom of how these numbers are happening.”

According to Crowell, the conversation part is already underway as the Auburn department continues to stay educated on the matter.

“I am fortunate,” the chief said, “to have an outstanding team of officers who understand the importance of balancing enforcement with building community partnerships. Auburn is fortunate to have the women and men who make a commitment every day to protect and serve our community.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to reflect the analysis of arrest data was the work of USA Today and not the ACLU of Maine.

2012 Bias Based Profiling Review



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