Sorting out the truth about racial profiling and policing on the Outer Cape is no easy assignment. But the explanation given last month by local police for disproportionate arrest statistics for black people is not supported by the available data.
Moreover, reaching any clear conclusion about police practices on profiling is confounded by an absence of requirements, at any level of government, that they keep track of and report those practices.
The July 2 edition of the Independent compared the year-round populations of each town to arrest and traffic stop data provided by the Outer Cape’s four police depts. The numbers for 2019 showed that, while black people made up just 1 to 3 percent of the population of the four towns, they accounted for 8 to 12 percent of the arrests.
Three of the local police chiefs said that the influx of travelers and summer visitors makes the comparison of year-round populations to arrest numbers unreliable. (Provincetown Chief Jim Golden did not respond to a request for comment on this question.)
Following that initial report, the Independent requested more detailed data, on the dates of the arrests and the places of residence of those arrested.
In Provincetown, 14 arrests of black people were recorded out of 132 total arrests in 2019. Four of the 14 arrests — 29 percent — took place between July 4 and Labor Day.
Two people, one from Provincetown and one from the town of Richmond, were arrested more than once, so that nine individuals accounted for the 14 arrests. Of those nine, six lived in Provincetown and one in North Truro. Just two lived off-Cape.
Golden noted that the person from Richmond accounted for five separate arrests.
Of the 75 arrests made by the Truro police in 2019, nine were of black people. That is, 12 percent of the people arrested were black when just 2.2 percent of the town’s population was black.
Truro Chief Jamie Calise provided data showing that seven of those nine arrests involved Truro residents.
“Four were domestic violence related whereby police were requested,” Calise wrote in an email. “Two of these domestic violence cases involved the same person. Three were motor vehicle related as a result of a traffic stop.”
He did not provide the town of residence of the others arrested, stating that the town’s system breaks down residence information only by state. He also did not provide dates of arrests, so it was not possible to assess the validity of Calise’s suggestion that a seasonal influx of visitors caused the disproportionate arrest numbers.
In Wellfleet last year, there were six arrests of black people out of 66 total arrests; three of the six were Wellfleet residents, while the others listed addresses in Malden and West Dennis. The dates of the arrests were not provided.
Eastham, with 2.6 percent of its population counted as black, had the lowest proportion of black people arrested on the Outer Cape — 8 percent, or five out of 64 people. That’s still more than three times their share of the town’s residents.
Of the five black people arrested by Eastham police in 2019 “on view” and based on “incidents and arrests,” four lived in Eastham and the fifth in Provincetown. None of the five arrests occurred between July 4 and Labor Day. Only one of those arrests was initiated by an officer; the other four were the result of calls from citizens, said Chief Adam Bohannon.
With small numbers like these, variation from year to year could matter. Bohannon also provided arrest data for 2018. In that year, also, five black males were arrested in Eastham. Only one was an Eastham resident; the others lived in West Yarmouth, Brewster, Hyannis, and Randolph. However, again, none of the five arrests occurred between July 4 and Labor Day. So, no seasonal-visitor population shift appears to have been a factor in either year.
The Independent also reviewed additional police traffic data. In 2019, black people accounted for 10 percent of Provincetown’s motor vehicle stops. The police issued 163 citations to black drivers; 20 percent of these were in July or August; another 29 percent were in June or September. One hundred and two of the 163 citations — 63 percent — were issued to black residents of Provincetown and Truro.
Parsing the Numbers
While these statistics continue to suggest that blacks are disproportionately pulled over and arrested on the Outer Cape, there are other factors to consider. For one, it’s not clear that comparing the local population to traffic stop and citation data paints an accurate picture. “Population figures are just not a good proxy for who’s driving on our roads,” said Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice and principal investigator of a 2004 study on racial disparities in police vehicle stops in Massachusetts. That study found that, in two out of three communities in the state, black and Hispanic people were disproportionately pulled over.
But McDevitt’s study didn’t use population data. Instead, the researchers tried to account for drivers who may have been coming in and out of municipalities for work and leisure, based on workforce population and local entertainment and amenities.
Having an accurate picture of the driving population is important in determining whether or not there are racial disparities in who is pulled over.
When it comes to racial disparities in what actions are taken as a result of a stop, however, all that needs to be recorded is who the police are stopping overall. McDevitt found that, statewide, consistently, blacks and Latinos, especially men, were more likely than other groups to receive a warning or citation when stopped. They were also less likely to have drugs found on them when searched.
McDevitt warned that disparities do not equal discrimination. He said, though, that when disparities cannot be logically explained, that’s when those who oversee law enforcement need to take a closer look and make changes — something they can’t do if they don’t have the data.
No Reporting Required
While each Outer Cape police dept. keeps track of race data in some form, based on the information provided to the Independent, the specifics seem to vary. One reason is that the police don’t actually have to report any of the data at all.
“The short answer is that there is no requirement federally or at the state level,” Jim Burch wrote in an email to the Independent. Burch is president of the National Police Foundation, which works to advance policing through innovations in practice and technology, according to its website.
The current standards for the Mass. Police Accreditation Commission do not specifically address what statistics municipal police departments have to make public or report to their town governments, according to Donna Taylor Mooers, the commission’s executive director.
Courtney Butler, the executive assistant to Wellfleet’s town administrator, said that there is no mandate for what police must submit to be published in the annual town report. She said that the police themselves decide what to include.
Similarly, Eastham Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said her town does not request specifics from its police dept. in the town report.
“Each department writes their own report,” Beebe said. “The chief does submit semi-annually to me and I share with the [select] board, basically outlining services and challenges over the six-month period.”
Truro Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer told the Independent that the data included in the town reports “represent the majority of incidents or activities handled by the police dept.; the remaining calls are generally informational calls that are not generally categorized or relate to daily administrative duties of officers.”
The data included in the town report is supposed to show the general workload of the department, she said.
Provincetown Town Manager Robin Craver did not respond to a request for comment before she resigned this month. Assistant Town Manager David Gardner did not respond to a request for comment before this week’s deadline.
A Model for Change
Even though police depts. in Massachusetts are not required to make arrest and traffic stop data by race public, Burch said at least one department makes a lot of information publicly available. It could be a model for others.
The Northampton Police Dept. publishes extensive data on its website, including the total number of police calls from 2003 to the present, domestic violence cases from 2006 to the present, major crimes by year from 2006 to the present, hate crimes from 2015 to the present, and categories of most frequent calls and activities from 2008 to the present.
The hate crimes section is the only one that gives racial information. It specifies the date of the incident, a description of the incident, and the category of hate crime by victim. For example, Northampton reported that on April 18, 2019, someone spray painted an anarchist symbol, the word “gays,” and a racial slur on the pavement and shed on someone else’s property. The bias was recorded as anti-black and anti-LGBTQ.