Duluth police release data on demographic disparities
Racial gaps exist in statistics such as arrests and use of force, a consultant found, but the report does not draw conclusions on the causes.
DULUTH — The Duluth Police Department on Wednesday night released a 172-page analysis of demographic disparities in the city's policing.
The release of the report, prepared by Seattle-based Police Strategies LLC, came almost exactly a year after the Duluth branch of the NAACP issued a public demand for the city to end racially disproportionate policing.
Bob Scales, a former prosecutor who serves as the company's CEO, told members of the Duluth Citizen Review Board and the public that Black and Native American citizens are over-represented in data regarding police calls, arrests and use of force — confirming some of the general observations from the NAACP and the Law Enforcement Accountability Network collective.
But Scales cautioned that he was merely collecting data from the department and other sources, saying he could not draw any firm conclusions about the causes of any disparities.
"I can't tell you standing here right now if there is or is not a problem with racial bias in the Duluth Police Department," he said. "The data cannot tell you that one way or the other. I can tell you that there's some indications that it's not a systemic problem, because I don't see patterns in the data that you would expect to see if that was a systemic problem."
Among some of the data points presented by Scales:
- Native Americans are about 10 times as likely to be reported to police as a crime suspect as compared to their population, while African Americans are about nine times as likely.
- Black suspects are about 70% more likely to have force used against them than would be expected based on the number of arrests, while Native Americans are 40% more likely.
- African Americans and Native Americans are both about five times more likely to report being the victim of a crime, based on the demographics of the city.
However, Scales said he has never analyzed a community where he did not observe disparities in some of those numbers. And he said the statistics are particularly exaggerated in Duluth because the city has such a small minority population.
While the NAACP and LEAN looked at data points such as traffic stops, arrests, and use-of force incidents in juxtaposition with the city's demographics, Scales said he doesn't believe population benchmarking to be the best measure, as that assumes crimes and police interactions are equally dispersed among people of every race, sex and age.
Rather, his report attempts to compare numbers against overall police calls, officer-initiated activities and arrests — for example, dividing the number of force incidents against the number of total arrests for suspects in each racial category and a variety of age groups.
Scales also looked at officer discretion while making arrests, finding that in general there were not significant disparities among racial groups — though Native Americans did have a higher risk of being arrested in situations where officers have less discretion. But the consultant also noted that officers often have little or no discretion in responding to 911 calls or making arrests, such as in domestic violence cases.
"Disparities exist; there's no question about that," Scales said. "I can tell you what they are and how big they are. But I can't tell you why they are."
While he has provided quantitative data, Scales said the next step would be for the department to dive into the qualitative data — reviewing relevant reports to determine the driving factors behind the disparities he identified.
Police Chief Mike Tusken agreed that the release of the data was a "starting point" rather than the end of the conversation. Recalling the "punch in the gut" that was the NAACP news conference, he said the release of the report marks a significant step in the department's promise to take a deep look at its practices and strive to more equitably serve the community.
"This information is not a revelation," Tusken said. "The systems in place, and those in power, know and understand the problem. And yet, solutions are few, painfully slow and often inadequate, and leave so many behind in the tumult of the wake. The information you will hear presented tonight will not solve systemic racism. But it does help us understand the data driving disparities and as a stepping off point to begin greater community conversations. It is not a comfortable conversation, but it is necessary."
Blair Powless, chair of the Citizen Review Board, agreed that it would likely take some time for the community to digest the extensive report and begin discussing solutions. He said the board would be looking to host a follow-up meeting to receive input and ask questions of the department.
Scales' report, a slideshow summary, video of the full presentation and other resources are available by going to duluthmn.gov/police and clicking on the "Reports" tab.
This story was updated at 8:30 a.m. April 2 to correct a comment from Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken. The News Tribune regrets the error.