On Monday evening I attended a community dialogue with Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck about race, law enforcement and community relations, organized by the NAACP Portland Branch, Green Memorial AME Zion Church and Williams Temple Church of God in Christ. The discussion was a follow-up to a dialogue that took place last month in response to the tragic events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri.
Using a PowerPoint presentation compiled by the police department, Chief Sauschuck spoke about the structure of the police department, mandated trainings for all officers, procedures for internal affair investigations, and arrest data for last year.
Here is what I learned: In 2013, the Portland Police Department made 3,511 arrests, 18 percent of which (632 people) were of black people. The police chief pointed out that this percentage was lower than national arrest data, where black people make up 28 percent of all arrests.
While this is indeed true if we were to simply look at raw percentages, that doesn't paint the whole picture. If we control for differences in demographics, we find that, in fact, racial disparities in arrest rates in Portland are actually greater than disparities in national arrest rates. Nationally, black people make up 13 percent of the population, compared to Portland where they make up just seven percent. In other words, in Portland black people are 2.73 times more likely to be arrested than white people - a disparity greater than the national rate of 2.42. While the difference may appear small, it is a difference of over 400 per 10,000 residents.
While the tragic events of Ferguson, Missouri may seem far removed from Portland, Maine, these numbers show us that there is quite a bit of work to be done right here - particularly when it comes to the relationship between law enforcement and our communities. The ACLU is working both nationally and here in Maine to challenge excessive policing tactics and fighting to preserve our constitutional rights and freedoms.
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