The Burlington Police Department has released an arrest data report that shows racial disparities continuing. Black people were arrested in Vermont’s largest city nearly four times more often than white people last year.
The latest report on arrest trends in Burlington was presented to the Board of Police Commissioners during their meeting this week.
The arrest Data Report is an analysis of the city’s 2019 Equity Report and the Burlington Police Department’s Use of Force Reporting. Burlington Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe presented the report to commissioners. “So if you look at arrest rates in Burlington currently per 1000 of population if you are Black in Burlington, relative to if you're white, the ratio of arrest is about 3.7 to one. I'm using 2019 data. So about two-to-one nationally, five-to-one in the state. This is using data that the police department previously released in 2018 as part of their Use of Force Analysis. Another important way to think about this same data is that Black Burlingtonian's make up about 5.3% of the population of Burlington and about 17% of the arrests in Burlington.”
Lowe noted when the data is analyzed further, some trends become apparent. “In addition to a falling overall arrest rate and a slight reduction in the disparity between Black and white arrests over time, fairly modest reduction in disparity over time, the disparity rate is higher for Black adults at about 5.0-to-one than it is for Black juveniles at about three-to-one. In 2019, Black arrestees were particularly over represented in four crime types: that's drug-related offenses, assault, domestic violence and disorder-related crimes. And in 2019 arrests which officers have a higher degree of discretion, which would be low level non-violent crimes, show less disparity. So you can see for those top four categories there's a significant over representation of Blacks in Burlington in these arrest types.”
The data indicates there has been a marked decline in juvenile arrests from a roughly five-to-one ratio to near parity. Acting Police Chief Jon Murad credits School Resource Officers for the change. “That decrease coincides with the creation of the MOU that guided and put new parameters on the role of the SRO in the school. And the change in the way in which arrests occur in the school, the prioritization of engagement and education and alternatives over enforcement, and of having officers in the school who know the individuals with whom they are dealing in ways that allow them to do something other than merely respond when called and take the route of enforcement is the reason for that decrease in the schools. It is the presence of the SRO’s that are changing the way they interact with juveniles in the schools and that ripples out to the way that officers on the road deal with juveniles who are encountered outside of school.”
The report assesses non-violent crime arrests where officers have discretion. Commissioner Randall Harp and Chief Murad discussed the implications for higher level crimes. “Suppose someone had the following hypothesis: first there is discretion among officers arresting for things like violent felonies. And the hypothesis is Black individuals are more frequently arrested in the category of violent felonies than other people are and those arrests are often not sustained by the state's attorney. So that's an hypothesis someone has. Is there anything in this data set that will allow us to evaluate that hypothesis?”
Murad: “Not in this data set no because we don't have access to correlate these cases specifically with the outcome at the level of the state's attorney.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger issued a statement saying that although there is progress reducing juvenile disparities, the continuing racial differences in the city’s arrest rates is troubling. “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…”