Truth & Reconciliation Project on Policing | Vanderbilt Divinity School

truth and reconciliation project banner

Vanderbilt Divinity School is partnering with Gideon’s Army for a series of public truth and reconciliation hearings on community members’ experiences of policing in Nashville. The first hearing is March 28, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Vanderbilt Divinity School. More information about the hearings (dates, times, locations) can be found below. As we have said before, “The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists.” These hearings are one way of continuing to help the entire Nashville community acknowledge that a problem exists, and to better understand that problem.

To prepare for the public hearings, Vanderbilt Divinity School is asking community members to submit testimonies detailing experiences with policing in Nashville. Gideon’s Army encourages community members to submit their testimonies in order to further build up the public record of experiences of policing in our community. Visit this website to submit your testimony. Please share this information in your networks and encourage Nashville community organizations working with residents affected by policing to share this testimony submission form throughout their networks.

Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Project on Policing at the Vanderbilt Divinity School website. Here are the basics, copied from their website:

The Scope

Vanderbilt Divinity School, in partnership with Gideon’s Army and the Nashville community, will host four Truth and Reconciliation Hearings on Policing. We will invite black, brown, queer, and white allies to tell and listen to personal stories of police abuse and dehumanizing local policing practices. Those giving testimony will help uncover the experience of policing, its methodologies, and habits. From these transcripts, with the community (and hopefully with cooperation from Metro Nashville Police Department), we will work: (1) to further develop a Citizen Oversight Board, (2) to understand and challenge policing policy and procedure in Nashville, beginning with a commitment by the police to reassess its policy and procedures and treatment of communities of color, (3) to negotiate a community covenant will that includes ten expectations for how we treat each other in the process of human centered policing in the community to preempt the phenomenon of police brutality and violence toward police in Nashville, and (4) to develop continuing education seminars on race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, community centered policing, and restorative justice.

The Process

Houses of worship, nonprofits, and community organizations are invited to host listening sessions for people to talk about their experiences with local police over the last decade. We have outlined a list of questions to frame your testimony. We ask that you use this framework for the listening sessions and for the public hearings. These religious, nonprofit, and community leaders will hear your testimonies then recommend to us the stories they find compelling for the public hearings to be hosted at VDS. We also have an online process where you may submit your testimony directly to us. We will select all the statements we receive from the community and notify the people we would like to stand testimony for one of the dates mentioned below. In total, 28 people will give testimony at VDS over four dates.

Dates and Location

March 28, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

April 22, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

April 29, 12:00 – 2:00 pm

May 16, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

All hearings will be held in the Reading Room of Vanderbilt Divinity School (located one floor up from the ground level).

Please arrive 30 minutes before event for registration and seating.

Each hearing will be video-recorded.

Guests attending these hearings may park in any non-reserved Zone 2 parking space in the Wesley Garage after 4:30 pm.

Advertisements

A Response to Chief Anderson’s Letter to Metro Council

 

Anderson Report Image 2

Chief Anderson’s belated letter to Metro City Council points out important debates in research on police officers’ racial bias but is entirely unsatisfactory as a response to Gideon’s Army’s Driving While Black report. Chief Anderson is correct that a single statistic cannot prove that “racially biased policing”—which MNPD defines as choosing to stop drivers “based solely” on their race—is causing the racial disparity in initial traffic stops. We do not make this argument in the report. We do make the argument that the observed racial disparities in stops, searches, and finding evidence during searches demonstrate a harmful discriminatory impact on black communities, likely stemming both from individual officer decisions and disparately impactful institutional policies and norms.

Chief Anderson cites several sources to show that racial profiling should be defined as an individual officer’s decision to stop a driver based solely on a group characteristic. He quotes the first sentence of the American Civil Liberties Union’s webpage on racial profiling but omits their critique of his definition a few paragraphs later. They state:

Defining racial profiling as relying “solely” on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion can be problematic. This definition found in some state racial profiling laws is unacceptable, because it fails to include when police act on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion in combination with an alleged violation of all law. Under the “solely” definition, an officer who targeted Latino drivers who were speeding would not be racial profiling because the drivers were not stopped “solely” because of their race but also because they were speeding. This would eliminate the vast majority of racial profiling now occurring (American Civil Liberties Union 2017).

Similarly, the Department of Justice does not establish that individual officers acted solely based on race when concluding that discriminatory racial impact and constitutional violations occurred in Baltimore and Ferguson. Using Census data, they argue that,

While there are limitations on using population data to benchmark vehicle stops because the proportion of drivers on roadways does not necessarily match the population living in a particular area, there are strong indications that BPD’s high rate of stopping African-American drivers is discriminatory (U.S. Department of Justice 2016:52).

Drawing methodologically from the DOJ’s Ferguson and Baltimore reports, we argue that the data show a consistent racially disparate impact across the county on multiple indicators. Chief Anderson’s letter to Metro Council overlooks discriminatory impact from probable cause and consent searches as well as the fact that officers are less likely to find evidence of a crime on black drivers. Our 22 interviews with black Nashville residents make clear that it is these discriminatory practices that are undermining police-community relations, not our report aimed at transforming policing and strengthening communities. The voices of community members were not mentioned in his letter.

In terms of methodology, Chief Anderson makes an important point: unadjusted Census benchmarks do not tell the full story of officers’ decision-making, but they can be strengthened through several adjustments, which we address in our report. First, to clarify several inaccuracies in Chief Anderson’s statement, prisoners are not included in the American Community Survey (ACS) since it only measures the non-institutionalized population and college students living in dorms are included in the ACS (U.S. Census Bureau 2016). The American Community Survey is continuously collected and estimates the population of metropolitan areas with more than 65,000 people annually. As recommended by Lorie Fridell (2004), one of the experts cited by Chief Anderson, ACS data can be adjusted by using the driving age population in combination with the proportion of households with access to vehicles.

The Driving While Black report assessed stops of residents separately from non-residents—as recommended by Fridell—since it matches the traffic stops to the benchmark being used (See Finding 2). Chief Anderson states that black drivers are 10% overrepresented; however, when excluding non-residents—as recommended by scholars—the disparity increases to 15%. If we adjust the Census benchmark for likely drivers through household car ownership, the black-white disparity would be even greater with black residents being 17.5% overrepresented in traffic stops. In 2014, 13.9% of black Nashville residents did not have access to a vehicle. White and Hispanic residents had greater access to vehicles with only 3.4% of white residents and 4.6% of Hispanic residents not having a vehicle (See Footnote 2 on page 37 of the report).

Chief Anderson can make insinuations about our ethics and research expertise, saying that we are “morally disingenuous” for promoting “a false narrative of racial profiling.” He can “categorically deny” that MNPD engages in racial profiling, and that community members asking for change are just biased against police. But the fact that MNPD’s policing strategy has a discriminatory impact on black communities, as black community members have been saying for years, will not change through denial, or through insufficient attempts at legitimizing these disparities, as we have previously shown. As community organizer D.J. Hudson stated at a recent press conference regarding Chief Anderson’s letter,

Not only to not hear the core assertion, which is that there is a problem here in Nashville, but to then assert that there is no problem and that the people who are identifying a problem are lying, shows a severe breach in this narrative that he is trying to paint, that things are cozy and all is well in Nashville.

The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel (2014), scholars at the University of Kansas, argue that the practice of pulling over many people in order to catch a few people who have committed crimes—or “looking past the stop” in MNPD parlance—deeply undermines community trust in police and limits communities’ ability to act collectively to reduce crime. They argue that, “the immediate task is to change institutionalized practices that have become the taken-for-granted definitions of professionalism, of what it means to do good police work” (Epp et al. 2014:160). Further, they state:

Changing norms and practice will also require the leadership of professional policing to frankly acknowledge and actively promote the message that investigatory stops cause harm. They cause harm even when the officer’s street-wise hunch draws attention to a driver or pedestrian and when the officer remains courteous and professional throughout the encounter. The current message from leaders that these stops ‘work’ is at best grossly imbalanced, at worst simply false. Every stop of an innocent person causes direct, palpable harm (Epp et al. 2014:161).

Gideon’s Army works to dismantle institutional injustices that are deeply ingrained in the criminal justice system. Chief Anderson just told us that he does not see discrimination as an institutional problem but a problem of single individuals acting on bias. This outdated and inaccurate understanding of racial discrimination undermines his credibility on issues of race and policing. Nashville deserves more.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. 2017. “Racial Profiling: Definition.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.aclu.org/other/racial-profiling-definition).

Epp, Charles R., Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald P. Haider-Markel. 2014. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. University of Chicago Press.

Fridell, Lorie A. 2004. “By the Numbers: A Guide for Analyzing Race Data from Vehicle Stops.” Police Executive Research Forum Washington, DC.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. “Group Quarters/Residence Rules.” Retrieved July 3, 2017 (https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/guidance/group-quarters.html).

U.S. Department of Justice. 2016. Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department.

 

Racial Disparities in Officer Lippert’s Traffic Stop & Search Practices

On Friday, February 10, MNPD officer Joshua Lippert stopped 31-year-old black Cayce Homes resident Jocques Scott Clemmons for running a stop sign. Clemmons, seemingly trying to avoid any confrontation with the officer, took off on foot, but Lippert followed and shot Clemmons in the back as he ran. The father of two young boys, beloved by his family, friends, and community, Clemmons died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center a short time later.

As we summarized in our Driving While Black report, released less than four months ago, “‘driving while black’ constitutes a unique series of risks, vulnerabilities, and dangers at the hands of MNPD that white drivers do not experience in the same way.” Given the over-policing that black community members endure, and the fear and anxiety that traffic stops induce for many black drivers, it is little surprise that Clemmons sought to avoid interacting with the officer at any cost. For trying to preserve his own life, Clemmons lost it.

A review of Officer Lippert’s disciplinary infractions shows a troubling history of use of excessive force. Subsequent stories have also been released detailing the nature of Lippert’s interactions with drivers. What has not yet been made public, however, are the exact number of Lippert’s stops and searches of black drivers. Using the same MNPD traffic stop database analyzed in the Driving While Black report, we release today a brief analysis of Officer Lippert’s equally egregious stop and search practices during 2016.

Officer Lippert’s traffic stop records for 2016 show that nearly 90% of the stops he made were of black drivers. His rate of stopping black drivers is disproportionate to the black population of any of the census tracts he patrolled. Census tracts are small county subdivisions that the Census Bureau uses to report population demographics. Compared to the average rate for other officers assigned to the same census tracts, Officer Lippert’s rate of stopping black drivers was 20% to 50% higher than other officers in the same areas. (See Table 1 and Figure 1. See Figure 4 for a map of census tracts where Officer Lippert patrolled and made more than 10 traffic stops in 2016.)

table-1-officer-lipperts-traffic-stops-2016-3figure-1-lipperts-traffic-stopsOfficer Lippert also searched drivers at astronomical rates. His rate for conducting any search (30.6%) is five times greater than officers patrolling the same census tracts (5.1%). His search rate vastly outpaced his colleagues in every census tract and across both forms of discretionary searches, consent and probable cause. (See Table 2 and Figure 2.)

table-2-officer-lipperts-searches-of-black-drivers-in-2016-compared-to-other-officersfigure-2-lipperts-traffic-stopsAs we outline in the full Driving While Black report, not only are discretionary searches used far more often on black drivers, officers are less likely to find incriminating evidence on black drivers than they are on white drivers. Officer Lippert’s search patterns show the same disparities: on black drivers, Lippert found 13 items of evidence in probable cause searches, and one item in a consent search. (See Figure 3.)

figure-3-officer-lipperts-search-success-rates-2016While it is true that Officer Lippert, as a flex officer, is typically assigned to patrol locations based on crime reports, the racial disparities in his stop and search numbers cannot be explained away by reference to alleged criminal activity in the areas he patrols. As we show in previous analyses, MNPD’s “we police where there is crime” justification does not stand because Officer Lippert’s stops and searches show racial disparities in every census tract he patrols, including in predominantly white areas. MNPD has also defended such racial disparities by arguing that such numbers are merely a consequence of the fact that they are only doing their job of keeping people safe in predominantly black, high-crime communities. If that were true, Jocques Clemmons would still be alive today.

While Officer Lippert’s stop and search practices show immense racial disparities, it should be understood that his actions are not an exception to but an expression of MNPD’s basic stop and search patterns, just in a particularly severe form. For this reason, Gideon’s Army condemns Officer Lippert’s actions, as well as the racially disproportionate stop and search regime of which it is a part. Moreover, holding Officer Lippert accountable also requires holding the entire Metro Nashville Police Department accountable for the discriminatory impact its practices have on communities of color. When we examine Officer Lippert’s record of disciplinary infractions, including several instances of excessive use of force, in combination with his troubling record of stopping and searching black drivers at rates dramatically higher than officers in the same areas, we see a clear recipe for racialized police brutality. In this instance, it has led to death. The lack of oversight on the part of Chief Anderson’s MNPD to monitor and report this information, and ultimately prevent the violence that transpired last week, supports the urgent demand for an independent civilian review board to protect the community from undue harm. We join Jocques Clemmons’ family, friends, and supporters in calling for such action.

Figure 4: Census Tracts Where Officer Lippert Made More than 10 Stops in 2016figure-4-lippert-census-tract-mapTo read our report and our subsequent statements and to view our public presentations, see the links below:

Full Driving While Black report

Executive Summary of Driving While Black report

Our rebuttal to MNPD’s unsatisfactory justification of racial disparities in traffic stops

Presentations by Gideon’s Army and MNPD to Metro Council regarding Driving While Black report

Gideon’s Army on Facebook

Gideon’s Army presents findings to Metro Council

On Monday, January 9, the Public Safety, Beer, and Regulated Beverages Committee and the Minority Caucus of Nashville’s Metro Council held a special joint meeting during which Gideon’s Army presented findings from our Driving While Black report. Commander Terrance Graves from the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) also gave a presentation. Both presentations were followed by Q&A from council members.

The entire hour-long event may be viewed here:

Here is a full roundup of media coverage of the event:

Nashville Scene, “What We’re Not Hearing from MNPD about Traffic Stops”

Nashville Public Radio (WPLN), “Racial Disparities Go Undisputed by Nashville Police, but No Promise Made on Traffic Stop Tactics”

Tennessean, “Metro Nashville Police Defend Amid Criticism of Biased Policing”

WSMV (Channel 4), “Metro police chief responds to ‘Driving While Black’ report”

WTVF (Channel 5), “Do Metro Police Officers Racially Profile Metro Drivers?”

WKRN (Channel 2), “Driving While Black report at focus of Metro Council meeting”

WKRN (Channel 2) (next day), “Local activist group challenges Metro police on alleged racial profiling”

Fox 17, “Metro PD responds to report that advocates say proves racial bias during traffic stops”

Download the report and support Gideon’s Army!

The full Driving While Black report may be downloaded here.

The Executive Summary of the report may be downloaded here.

A brief summary booklet version of the report may be downloaded here.

“Like” Gideon’s Army on Facebook to stay tuned on upcoming events.

And finally, please donate to help support Gideon’s Army’s ongoing work!

A Rebuttal to MNPD’s Response to ‘Driving While Black’ Report

By Gideon’s Army Driving While Black Team

December 6, 2016

On October 25, 2016, Gideon’s Army released Driving While Black: A Report on Racial Profiling in Metro Nashville Police Department Traffic Stops. Over the course of 213 pages, the report demonstrates in detail that the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) subjects a disproportionate number of people of color to traffic stops and an even more disproportionate number of people of color to warrantless roadside searches.

Less than an hour after the release of the report, MNPD publicly responded that its officers do not engage in racial profiling, and that any racial disparities in MNPD’s traffic stops are merely the byproduct of its deployment of officers to “high crime areas.” MNPD also affirmed its commitment to the philosophy of having its officers “look beyond the stop” to find incriminating evidence during traffic stops, which MNPD believes to be an important crime-fighting tactic.

On October 30, 2016, five days later, Mayor Megan Barry publicly stated with regard to the Driving While Black report that statistics can be misleading, and that her office would be working with MNPD to ask the “next question” to determine “if” there is a problem (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psuu8GaOYro) (At 1:10:30 – 1:17:15).

Gideon’s Army has already asked the “next question” of the data and has found that MNPD’s justification for the race disparities is wholly lacking. While MNPD claims that racial disparities in traffic stop practices occur solely due to MNPD’s deployment of officers to “high crime areas,” this explanation utterly fails to explain why there are race disparities in MNPD’s roadside searches in virtually every MNPD patrol zone. These disparities were demonstrated by Appendix Two of the report, which included tables showing search disparities in virtually all of MNPD’s patrol zones representing areas with all levels of crime. Because these disparities exist in nearly every patrol zone, it is simply false to claim that they are the incidental byproduct of deploying more officers to “high crime areas.”

As part of their response to the Driving While Black report, MNPD has also said that vehicle stops are part of MNPD’s mission to create safety, especially in “high crime areas.” As MNPD spokesman Don Aaron recently stated: “Victims of crime seem to have been lost in this discussion. The MNPD makes no apologies for professionally and lawfully working in high crime areas to reduce victimization. Officers are to conduct their work fairly, impartially and without bias toward any segment of this community.”

Once again, MNPD’s response overlooks what our report so clearly illustrates, namely that hundreds of thousands of innocent drivers, a disproportionate number of whom are black and Hispanic, are being subjected to stops and searches that result in only a warning and yield no incriminating evidence (Findings 6-8). As such, these stops and searches—the vast majority of all stops and searches, hundreds of thousands every year—play no role in “reducing victimization,” as MNPD claims. Indeed, not only do these stops and searches have nothing to do with victims of crime, our interviews show that black drivers often experience such stops and searches as forms of victimization, not as protection from victimization. Does MNPD seriously “make no apologies” for conducting hundreds of thousands of racially disproportionate stops and searches that bear no relation to criminal activity?

In response to Ordinance BL2016-483 proposed by Council Members Mendes and Gilmore, MNPD released figures, probable cause searches, consent searches, and pat down searches as well as evidence found in each type of search. The analysis nearly complies with the proposed ordinance, except for the data presented on consent searches. While the ordinance calls for data on “warrantless consent searches without probable cause,” MNPD included searches where consent was given and the officer asserted probable cause. This overlap double counts probable cause searches, and has the effect of roughly doubling the apparent success rate of consent searches.

Overall, the analysis from MNPD supports the claims made in the Driving While Black report even though it is challenging to comprehend without substantial interpretation and additional calculations. To show disparities, a comparison must be made between groups that shows the size of the difference.* Based on MNPD’s figures, across Davidson County, black non-Hispanic men are searched based on consent at a rate 200% higher than white non-Hispanic men. In these searches, the rate of officers finding evidence is 14% lower for black men than white men. Black non-Hispanic men are searched based on probable cause at a rate 286% higher than white non-Hispanic men. In probable cause searches, the rate of finding evidence is 21% lower for black men than white men. These disparities have some variability across precinct and patrol zone but are consistent in their implications: black men are disproportionately searched and officers are less likely to find evidence on black men compared to white men.

To assist with interpreting the 40 pages of tables published by MNPD we provide (below) two tables and two graphs showing relative rates of searches and finding evidence for black non-Hispanic men compared to white non-Hispanic men. Table 1 and Graph 1 present comparisons at the county and precinct levels while Table 2 shows comparisons for each patrol zone. Graph 2 ranks the racial disparity in consent searches by zone. We draw solely from the analysis published by MNPD for these figures even though they include some probable cause searches conflated with consent searches. Positive numbers (above the horizontal axis) show cases where black non-Hispanic men have higher rates of being searched while negative numbers (below the horizontal axis) show lower rates. For instance, in zone 821, which is located in the Midtown Hills Precinct, 7.1% of black men who are stopped are subjected to a consent search compared to 0.8% of white men who are stopped. The rate for black men is 787.5% greater than the rate for white men while officers are also 5.8% less likely to find evidence on black men than white men.

In each category of search, black men are vastly more likely to be searched. Meanwhile, in the majority of cases officers are less likely to find evidence on black men. The exception to this pattern is with weapons found during pat downs. However, according to the 252 database of traffic stops, 75% of pat down searches in which weapons were found also had probable cause to justify the search, suggesting that it would be helpful if the ordinance were amended to require MNPD to present data on the volume and success rate of pat downs without probable cause. Furthermore, it should be noted that the database does not specify the type of weapon found. Finally, since only 97 weapons were found in the county as a whole during pat down searches on black and white non-Hispanic men, the sample size is small enough that rates for weapons should be interpreted with caution.

The story told by these data is that racial disparities persist in every geographic unit, which means the justification of higher officer deployments to “high crime areas” is unfounded. With MNPD’s most recent release of search figures confirming the results of the Driving While Black report, along with the reasons outlined at length in our report, MNPD’s enormous, racially disparate “stop and search” regime cannot be justified on the basis of crime reduction because the numbers simply do not bear out such a claim. We condemn these racially disparate stop and search practices, as well as MNPD’s disingenuous justifications for them, and call upon the Mayor’s Office to recognize and rectify this problem immediately.

*To compare groups, we use the relative rate calculated as (x – y)/y where x is the rate for black non-Hispanic men and y is the rate for white non-Hispanic men.

 

rebuttal-table-1

rebuttal-graph-1

rebuttal-graph-2

rebuttal-table-2-1rebuttal-table-2-2