Citizens for Juvenile Justice Defends Its Report on New Bedford Police
Since a controversial report on alleged racial profiling by the New Bedford Police Department was released by Citizens for Juvenile Justice a week ago, the report's findings have been called into question by the department, the Mitchell Administration, the police union, and residents.
In particular, the NBPD called into question the non-profit organization’s use of the data the department itself provided through public records requests.
In a response dated April 20 and provided to WBSM News today following an inquiry, the organization said it stands by the analysis in the report, entitled "We Are the Prey: Racial Profiling and Policing of Youth in New Bedford." The report alleges that 46 percent of the people involved in interactions with police over the past five years were Black, despite the city’s overall population being just seven percent Black.
“While we appreciate that the New Bedford Police Department (NBPD) has brought up different manners of expressing the data, we take their statement as an invitation to conduct additional analysis of the existing data...and as a reason for the Department to publicly release more detailed data on these incidents,” the CfJJ said. “The important takeaway from this new analysis is that significant racial disparities exist in the Field Incident Report data no matter how you cut the data.”
While the CfJJ addressed each of the department’s concerns about the report individually, the biggest was the discrepancy between the field incident reports provided by police and the number claimed in the report.
According to the CfJJ, the NBPD provided 4,997 field incident reports collected between 2015 and June of 2020. The police department disputed that number, stating that it had only provided 2,210 reports, which it said called into question the credibility of the entire report.
“The department provided 2,210 reports to the organization, which miscalculated and misreported the number as 4,997 – likely drawn from the number of individuals observed, as many of whom were observed more than once, and do not represent unique individuals, which is also omitted in the report,” the police wrote. “In light of this fundamental discrepancy, it is impossible to make sense of much of the rest of the report.”
The CfJJ replied that it was not a discrepancy at all, but rather based on the number of people involved in each incident.
“We agree that (2,210) is the number of FIRs shared, and CfJJ did indeed conduct the analysis for the report based on the number of individuals observed (4,997). This larger number is an important metric because it represents the impact on actual people affected by interactions with police,” the organization said. “This is not a ‘misrepresentation,’ or a ‘miscalculation,’ but a different presentation of the same data set.”
The CfJJ then did a deep dive into explaining its criteria for examining the numbers, admitting that, as the police suggested, an individual may be listed multiple times.
“The data shared is de-identified, so CfJJ could not answer the question on how many unique individuals had Field Incident Reports written up about them and conduct a race equity analysis of this,” it said. “However, NBPD has the ability to do such an analysis: we therefore invite and challenge NBPD to conduct its own race equity analysis of the data based on the number of unique individuals involved. If they do not want to conduct the data analysis themselves, we invite the Department to amend the data set already released to CfJJ to include unique identifiers (such as by assigning ‘individual 1,’ ‘individual 2’ etc., still without divulging personally identifiable information) for the people who were subject of the FIRs.”
The CfJJ also stated that while it “did not initially plan to release the dataset in its entirety,” it was doing so now to “invite researchers and advocates to confirm our analysis and conduct additional analyses and visualizations.” Included were the spreadsheet for all the field incident reports used in compiling the data, as well as a spreadsheet for the “Validated” Gang Member List.
Another issue with the report, the police said, was that “the report’s author(s) acknowledged during a public presentation that only five anonymous New Bedford residents were interviewed to draw conclusions about the perception of policing in the city.”
According to the CfJJ’s response, that statement is inaccurate.
“CfJJ spoke to five young people as part of a focus group but affirmed these statements through multiple conversations with service providers, youth-serving agencies and others living in New Bedford, including those who work with youth,” it said. “While we elevated and centered the voice of young people, as is our mission to do, those conversations were not the sole feedback on the data contained in the report.”
Citizens for Juvenile Justice also responded to the NBPD’s allegation that the organization “did not verify crucial facts.”
“It is also disappointing that the organization did not verify crucial facts, including many recommendations the report made, which the New Bedford Police Department had already implemented,” the department wrote. “Many of the observations appear to be based in error or assumptions about New Bedford’s geography and the ethnic composition of its neighborhoods.”
The CfJJ claims it attempted to get the department’s insight on the findings, but alleges that Chief Joseph Cordeiro did not respond to its request in a timely manner.
“We find it both misleading and dishonest for the Department to say that we did not ‘verify crucial facts’ with them before the release of the report,” the organization said. “CfJJ reached out by email to the New Bedford police chief on March 10, 2021 – more than a month prior to the report’s release – asking for comment on initial findings and/or time to speak about these findings. We received no response to this request for comment and went ahead with finalizing the report based on the information available to us. CfJJ only received a reply 30 days later with a request to ‘review’ the report on April 9, 2021 – five days prior to the report launch – when we were already putting the finishing touches on it.”
That April 9 date is the day after Citizens for Juvenile Justice sent an email to WBSM News – and, assumedly, all other local media outlets – announcing its public presentation of the report was planned for April 14.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell issued his own response to the report on Monday, echoing the police department’s stance that the way the statistics are represented make the report “dubious at best.” Mitchell did acknowledge that “preserving and strengthening the trust between police and the residents they serve is a serious matter,” and that it should be “the focus of public discussion here in New Bedford and across America.”
The CfJJ concluded its response by stating it welcomes the opportunity to engage in those ongoing conversations with the New Bedford Police Department.
“More importantly, CfJJ challenges the police and city leadership to engage in honest and transparent dialogue about the impact of policing practices in the city,” it wrote. “Mayor Mitchell recently stated, ‘We are committed to confronting any indication of systemic racism in public institutions.’ We believe that it is time to engage in a process that is genuinely inclusive of voices from communities that have been impacted by police practices cited in this data, as well as those who advocate on their behalf.”
In addition to the New Bedford Police Department, Mayor Mitchell and the New Bedford Police Union denouncing the report, City Councilor-at-Large Brian Gomes, who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods, has also filed a motion for Thursday’s meeting asking that the council formally denounce the report as well.