Data shows African Americans subject to 73% of stop and frisk incidents in Charlottesville in 2017

City Council hears report on 2017 stop and frisk data

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"The hunch that they [officers] are going off of is skin color," Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said. "We need to have a conversation about what that means in Charlottesville … it's happening for the same reasons that it's always happened — because of of racism.” 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

The Charlottesville City Council heard and discussed the implications of a police department report last Monday which detailed the racial breakdown of stop and frisk statistics in the City in 2017. According to the report, 91 individuals out of 125 investigative detention stop incidents during 2017 which included search or frisk operations were African American, while 33 were white. 31 individuals out of 48 investigative detention stops which did not involve a search or frisk operation, were African American while 16 were white. 

The report was presented by Interim Chief of Police Thierry Dupuis and Captain Victor Mitchell of the Charlottesville Police Department. 

Dupuis said stop and frisk interactions between police officers and individuals are classified under incidents of investigative detention in which a law enforcement officer briefly detains an individual based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Dupuis said incidents of investigative detention comprised .2 percent of the nearly 50,000 “community member encounters” between officers and individuals in Charlottesville during 2017. 

Dupuis also said that stop and frisk is a strategy utilized by the police department to protect officers in situations where an individual may possess a firearm or other weapon. However, Dupuis added that officers are required to have reasonable suspicion before searching an individual.

According to Mitchell, 66 — or more than half — of the stop and frisk cases in Charlottesville during 2017 involved narcotics investigations. He said the majority of these incidents were the result of officers exercising probable cause during traffic stops to search vehicles for drugs. Mitchell cited an officer smelling marijuana upon approaching a vehicle during a traffic stop as an example of probable cause. 

In response to the presentation of the report, Councilor Wes Bellamy said solutions needed to be developed to eradicate the racialization of local policing.

“How can a group [African Americans] make up 91 of 125 investigative detentions, but they represent less than a fifth of the population?” Bellamy asked.

Dupuis said the police department needed to conduct a more in-depth data analysis to develop strategies as a response to the issue. 

“I think where we need to do a better job at is probably digging down deeper so we can get more data for groups to take a look at and help us try to figure out if there is a better way to police the community,” Dupuis said. 

Dupuis also said he recognized that there are racial disparities in terms of minority communities and their interactions with law enforcement personnel. 

“There is no doubt based on population that there is a disproportionate amount of minority contact across the criminal justice system not just with the police,” Dupuis said. “I think the more important question is, is there a disparity in it?” 

In response to the disproportionate number of African Americans who were simply stopped or confronted by police officers as part of an investigative detention incident but not charged with any crimes, Mayor Nikuyah Walker said such policing was damaging to to the community. 

“Without there being a crime, that shows right there that there's major issues within this process and how it’s not working,” Walker said. “But since there was not a charge, since they were not detained … we should be having a very different conversation than the one we've been having today.” 

Dupuis agreed with Walker but said the police department does not currently have any concrete answer to the problem. 

“We just don't have all the answers,” Dupuis said. “We’re certainly willing to work with City Council and members of this community to try to get some of those answers.” 

Dupuis countered part of Walker’s argument by stating that even though minority individuals may have been stopped by police officers more frequently, no “false arrests” were made. 

“A different way to look at this is that because the officers saw something that they, based on their training and experience believed to be criminal behavior, investigated it [and] found out it wasn't, they walked away,” Dupuis said. 

Bellamy also weighed in on the matter, stating that the interactions between minority community members and police officers were likely negative even if no arrests were made. 

“Even when an individual has that kind of interaction … it can be rather traumatizing in which you believe you’re doing your own thing and minding your business and the police believes, based off of their training, that you may be doing something illegal,” Bellamy said. “And it turns out you are not, in the the police officer’s eyes it may be, ‘Hey I was just checking it out.’” 

Bellamy added that the tendencies of police officers in Charlottesville to confront minorities divides the local community and fosters mistrust. 

“From the individual it actually happens to, they're thinking, ‘Damn, I just got picked on by the police or bothered by the police for nothing’ and that creates this further divide between us,” Bellamy said. “It's not a very pleasant kind of interaction where both sides just walk away.” 

Walker said that the strategies for policing in Charlottesville were outdated and reflected racist attitudes of the past. 

“We need to actually look at why we are still policing in the same manner that we have been policing,” Walker said. “The hunch that they [officers] are going off of is skin color. We need to have a conversation about what that means in Charlottesville … it’s happening for the same reasons that it's always happened — because of of racism.” 

In terms of potential strategies and solutions to the racialized nature of stop and frisk practices in Charlottesville, City Manager Maurice Jones said better training of officers was needed along with careful review of stop and frisk reports by police supervisors. 

“Another important step is to dig deeper into the data,” Jones said. “We've got a group of folks who will be doing that with the City Manager’s Office, the police department, the City Attorney’s Office [and] the commonwealth attorney's office as well and getting a better understanding of some of the issues associated with [the data].”

Councilor Heather Hill said there is a need to create a sense of community and trust between Charlottesville residents and law enforcement personnel. 

“I think it's really important as we’re looking to the new leadership that it's a time to set a shift in culture,” Hill said. “How can we better bridge relationships between our law enforcement and our community so those communities can get to know those officers?”

The release of the report comes amidst a time of controversy for the City’s police department. After the white nationalist events of Aug. 11 and 12 at the University and in Charlottesville, the law enforcement management and response to the demonstrations became the subject of much public criticism in the local community. 

In an independent review of the City’s management of and response to the events of August conducted by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy, the Charlottesville Police Department was heavily criticized for its ineffective and inefficient management of white nationalist demonstrators and counter protesters. In response to these events, the City Council approved the development of an independent Civilian Review Board to increase accountability and transparency of the police department in November 2017. Applicants for membership on the board are currently being considered by the Council. 

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