November 15, 2010

Syracuse Police Chief Responds to Violence, Statistics

Coming on the heels of the recent rash of shootings, Saturday’s well-attended community meeting on how to stop the violence, shots being fired at a demonstration on Sunday lamenting the recent violence – seriously, I’m not making this up – today’s newspaper brought us a report commissioned by the Syracuse Common Council about the city’s police department and possible issues of racial profiling. 

The study shows that more blacks and Latinos are stopped, frisked, and released than are whites, so the 'obvious' conclusion is that the cops are biased against people of color. Or on the other hand, as Chief Fowler made clear, he deploys his officers where the crime is – and that tends to be in neighborhoods with higher populations of people of color. Frankly, isn't that where we want the police to be focusing their efforts? As the Chief says, his department does ‘criminal profiling’, which is not the same as racial profiling. 

Naturally, there are different opinions about the report. The local NAACP chapter offered this, according to the Post Standard: '“Actually, the study didn’t tell me anything we really didn’t know,” said Preston Fagan, president of the Syracuse/ Onondaga Branch of the NAACP. What it tells him, he said, is that more blacks are being stopped, searched and then let go because police can find no reason to hold them. The police have a job to do and most Syracuse police do theirs well, Fagan said. But it’s easy for someone who was not breaking the law to conclude that police stopped and searched them because they were black, young or fit some other profile, he said. That spawns resentment that ripples through the community, he said.'  He did suggest that the study be conducted more frequently, to 'track changes in behavior'.  

What an impact it could have had, if instead he had said “The report is interesting, and the SPD needs to be aware there's a perception in some parts of the city that there's racial profiling going on, but what’s much more important to our organization and our community is the fact that so many crime victims and the suspects involved are black. This is a huge concern and we will do whatever we can to support the police in their efforts to stop this senseless violence, even if that means putting up with additional attention from police in our neighborhoods."  

That's the kind of statement all community organizations should be making, but I won't be holding my breath waiting for them.