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BPD study: Blacks arrested nearly four times more often than whites

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 4:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 8:19 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Black people are being arrested in Burlington at a rate nearly four times greater than whites, according to a new report from the police department.

The 2019 Equity Report Follow Up: Burlington Race and Arrest Rate Analysis says Burlington Police responded to 28,000 calls in 2019 and made 1,600 arrests. The overall arrest rate was 37 for every 1,000 residents. But for Black people that rate was 123 for every 1,000 residents.

As with recent traffic stop data, city officials say the numbers in this new report show cause for concern of possible racial inequities. Blacks make up just over five percent of Burlington’s population but accounted for 17 percent of the arrests in the city last year.

Skyler Nash of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance calls that statistic troubling. “That would be the statistic that I would hope everybody focuses on above all else. You can’t get around that — that type of disparity and outcome— you can’t avoid that. You can’t ignore that. That really shows the depth of the problem that we’re dealing with in the city,” Nash said.

The greatest disparities in arrest rates are found in four crime categories -- drugs, assault, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct.

People we spoke with in Burlington have questions. “Why? Why are they so much more of a target over others? Is it just because they show up more on their nightly radar or is it due to they’re more focused on the radar?” asked Rhea Bushey.

“I think that figure that was presented is ominous. I think it’s more than I would have expected,” said Edward Murphy.

The police department notes that overall arrests have been dropping steadily in Burlington for the past decade and the racial disparity has been narrowing. We should also note the report contains no indication that any of these arrests were wrongful or racially-motivated. But the report does recommend further study of how underlying racial inequities in the community could be influencing arrests.

Acting Police Chief Jon Murad says they are working to further understand the disparities and get to the bottom of them.

“These disparities are concerning and we want to get to the heart of these and understand where we are able to impact. We’ve seen the ability to impact disparities in traffic enforcement and we’ve seen that change. Can we make a difference in regard to some of these kinds of crimes that we’re seeing right now in this report? That’s the next step,” Murad said.

“These disparities demand both continued work within the department and a sustained effort to root out systemic racism that goes far beyond the scope of the Burlington Police Department, or even law enforcement,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement.

The mayor says the report does show progress in reducing racial disparities and the city is committed to continuous improvement.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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