Asheville Police give traffic stop data to council committee
Although the department claims it does not intentionally target black motorists, advocates say Asheville police data proves otherwise, and after careful consideration by council members at a November meeting, the chef David Zack returned to address concerns.
At the November public safety committee meeting, a review of traffic stop data showed plummeting overall numbers, but a disproportionate number of stops for black drivers raised questions from council members.
Addressing the February 25 committee meeting, Zack said the distribution of trafficking citations, as with crime in general, should not be “proportionally dispersed among population groups”.
Dwight Mullen, a retired professor of political science and African studies at UNC Asheville and founder of Black Asheville State, said traffic stop data is nothing new.
It remained largely constant for more than a decade, he said, and his research found that in Asheville, police stopped, searched, cited and arrested black men four times more than white women.
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He said he had been arrested several times, as had his sons. They were routinely stopped when they came to town, Mullen said, and that’s part of the reason they decided not to stay.
“Honestly, it’s expected. It’s no surprise,” Mullen said. “It’s something that’s been here for (over 30) years, it’s just become something that’s part of the script. You expect it, it’s going to happen. Just wait your turn.”
In February, Zack provided an update on traffic stop survey data, attempting to dig deeper into council concerns in November.
When the discussion erupted in November, Zack defended the numbers, telling the committee and the Citizen Times that police made stops in places where data and residents said there were traffic safety concerns.
Officers also focused on areas with the highest violent crime or “victimization” which also have some of the largest black populations, the chief said.
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At the February 25 committee meeting, his message was largely the same.
“The Asheville Police Department does not intentionally target any specific race or gender of people for traffic enforcement,” Zack said.
The update focused on investigative stops, in which officers search for a certain driver or vehicle, 33% to 35% of which involved black drivers in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Of the 3,666 traffic stops in 2021, according to APD data, only 168 were classified as investigators, or 4.5%.
Black drivers made up 29% of all investigative stops. According to 2020 census data, Asheville’s black population is 11.2%.
According to Zack, there are five types of traffic stops for investigation: attempt to locate, BOLO, stolen vehicle, warrant and investigation only.
“It’s not just officers who stop at random. Many times we were called to that particular area to deal with that particular vehicle,” Zack said.
Of the 83 traffic stops “for investigation only”, 13 resulted in an arrest and 10 in a summons, according to the police. In 60 stops, no action or warning was given.
A search was conducted in 10 incidents due to a given consent, probable cause or arrest search incident, according to the presentation, and seven of the 10 searches resulted in an arrest.
According to Delores Jones-Brown, a former prosecutor and professor emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one of the main problems with investigative stops is that “the overwhelming majority” of people they stop are not implicated.
“That’s what makes these shutdowns problematic,” she said.
“If they’re making these arrests and they’re impacting the lives of people who aren’t involved in the crime, that’s a problem. That means they have to find a way to be more discerning about who they’re arresting and who they’re actually looking for.”
Jones-Brown said police can increase their presence in areas without having contact with people, which acts as a deterrent without impeding the liberty of those not involved in a crime.
This increased interaction between law enforcement and residents can lead to a lack of trust and a lack of perception of police behavior as legitimate, she said, as well as a lack of cooperation when there is has an actual investigation into a serious crime.
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Zack said high traffic areas and areas with high call volume or criminal activity are the main focus of the app, noting a high concentration of stops along Tunnel Road, Smokey Park Highway and Long Shoals Road.
The highest concentration of “investigation-only” stops occurred in West Asheville near exit 44 and downtown near Biltmore Avenue, police said.
Mullen said that response — that police only target areas with high crime or victimization — is what departments across the country are saying to advocate for higher rates of black motorist stops.
It’s an issue impossible to disentangle from race, he said, noting police presence isn’t as high downtown in “drunk tourist” areas as it is in neighborhoods. black where drug activity is suspected.
“The tourism industry is something we protect and cherish,” Mullen said. “We should think of our neighborhoods the same way, as something we protect and cherish.”
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A statement on the presentation from the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition raised similar concerns – it said excusing the data because “crime is disproportionately distributed across populations” leads to the criminalization of black people, and is a “gross misrepresentation of the real situation and blatantly ignores underlying causes such as lack of resources, opportunities, and historical and current racial discrimination.”
Kim Roney, one of three city council members on the public safety committee, acknowledged the similarity of the traffic stop density maps to those depicting historic red lines and urban renewal.
“I look at this map with this reminder to myself of the urban renewal and redlining map, and given the displacement migration patterns associated with urban renewal and redlining, and for me, that reinforces the need repairs,” Roney said.
“We can’t do this work fast enough while going slow enough to include everyone.”
It’s an observation Mullen echoed, noting the correlation between police-targeted areas and cordoned-off areas — a practice in the 1930s and 1940s that resulted in predominantly black neighborhoods being targeted by banking practices. discriminatory.
“So it’s a deep story,” Mullen said. “It’s a very deep story that ties directly to redlining in this city.”
Engage community voices
After the presentation, Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith said that as the community changes the way it interacts with law enforcement, it should continue to have conversations about “important issues” in security strategies in community and transitioning to more community-led and grassroots strategies. -targeted security infrastructures.
She invited residents to share their thoughts on changes to public safety in the community.
“I’m not sure we have substantial consensus on whether the use is necessary, or just another profiling tool,” Smith said of traffic stops. She said they can also be seen as a strategy to increase the sense of safety in neighborhoods.
“Let’s just continue to have conversations about best uses of practice and whether it’s routine or investigative… so it’s not going to be a platform for a lot of blame and finger pointing.”
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Michael Hayes, executive director of the nonprofit collective Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice and current candidate for mayor of Asheville, said he has also suffered a disproportionate number of stops by law enforcement in the county and city.
He said it was “imperative” for the community to have a platform to talk about their experiences and to call on people to look at traffic stoppage data with a lens of fairness and equality, and wondering if it feels right.
He said black and brown residents of Asheville were experiencing more traffic stops at an “alarming rate.”
“There are too many people who are part of the system who don’t want to have these conversations,” Hayes said.
“There’s still a profiling system, a system where it’s oppressive because we have to be afraid of all these things.”
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.