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ACLU Finds 'Racial Bias' In Boston Police Encounters

This article is more than 8 years old.

Police here say they're addressing racial disparities among the people they stop.

A new analysis of Boston police forms filed after encounters with citizens shows that between 2007 and 2010, 63 percent of their encounters were with blacks. At that time, just 24 percent of the city's population was black. (See the ACLU chart below.)

Those numbers are no surprise to 22-year-old Ivan Richiez, from Jamaica Plain.

"There was a point in time when I was being stopped about three times a week."

Alex Ponte-Cappellan, of Roxbury

"I feel very targeted even just walking down the street," he said in an interview.

Richiez estimates he's been stopped by police several dozen times.

Twenty-three-year-old Alex Ponte-Cappellan, of Roxbury, agrees.

"I'm walking home and they'll just stop me, ask for my ID, run my pockets, check for warrants, hold me for 30 minutes," he said. "There was a point in time when I was being stopped about three times a week."

The racial disparities are clear in the analysis, published Wednesday, that was done by two independent researchers and the American Civil Liberties Union. They reviewed more than 200,000 of what are known as "field interrogation and observation" (FIO) reports — forms officers file after they come in contact with or observe someone.

"[The report] shows not just racial disparities but racial bias," said Matt Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Police say this is not the well-known "stop and frisk" program in other cities, like New York, but is simply documentation of various police encounters. In a posted response, they also say the analysis shows that police are targeting gang members in high-crime areas.

But Segal says even when taking into account police stops in high-crime neighborhoods, the numbers tell a different story.

"The point of this study really was to test the idea that blacks are disproportionately targeted for police encounters just because police go where the crime is. It turns out that does not explain what happened in Boston," he said.

The ACLU is recommending that Boston police wear body cameras, issue citizens receipts after encounters, and be more transparent with the information about the encounters.

Segal says with national attention on law enforcement after the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Boston needs to look at what's happening in its department.

"There is an ongoing nationwide conversation about police practices and race. That conversation is happening in Boston," he said. "We get asked, 'What are you going to do to help improve policing in Boston?' "

Boston police say since 2010, the number of police encounters, or FIO reports, has dropped. They do acknowledge that there are continuing racial disparities they are working to address.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh agrees. In a statement he said he is "focused on a culture change" across the city and has worked to address the disparities outlined in the report.

- Two charts from the ACLU report:

(Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts)
(Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts)
(Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts)
(Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts)

This segment aired on October 9, 2014.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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