BOSTON (CN) – The Boston Police Department is supposed to reform stop-and-frisk policies after data showed racial bias, but it is keeping a lid on new statistics, civil libertarians claim in court.
Researchers need FIO reports, short for “Field Interrogation, Observation, Frisk, and/or Search,” to discern whom police officers are stopping and why, according to the Aug. 6 complaint filed in Suffolk County Superior Court.
The American Civil Liberties Union and its Massachusetts branch say they have been fighting the BPD for such records since 2009 “after receiving numerous complaints that BPD officers were unfairly targeting people of color during street-level encounters.”
Eventually the BPD agreed to make its data from 2007 to 2010 available for analysis by independent researchers, and a report on their findings was published this past June.
The ACLU says that the report, co-authored by professors Columbia University, Rutgers University and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, substantiated allegations of racially disparate treatment, leading the BPD to begin reforming its stop-and-frisk policies.
Though the BPD pledged to publish annual data about police-civilian encounters, the ACLU says its requests for such records have gone unanswered.
“Although Massachusetts law mandates a response within 10 days, defendants have now failed to provide these records for more than 11 months,” the complaint states (emphasis in original). “That failure prevents the public from learning whether the BPD’s racially discriminatory practices have persisted since 2010, and it hamstrings public debate about whether the BPD’s purported reforms are sufficient to address these problems.”
Matthew Segal, the legal director for the ACLUM, noted that June 2015 report showed that black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to be stopped and questioned by officers.
“These calculations predict thousands of extra police encounters per year due solely to race – specifically, the percentage of Black and Latino residents in a Boston neighborhood – rather than crime or other factors,” Segal said in a statement. “The people of Boston deserve to know, and the law says that they are entitled to know, what is happening between civilians and Boston Police Department officers on the streets of Boston. It is not good enough to disclose this information long after it is requested, when the time for people to vindicate their rights in court might have run out.”
BPD commissioner Bill Evans, who is named as a co-defendant to the lawsuit alongside his department, meanwhile emphasized that gang affiliation and previous criminal offenses were also strong indicators for repeat FIO stops.
“While there is still some work be to done to ensure we are closing the gap on these racial disparities, the numbers of overall FIO activity are encouraging, and indicates the department is headed in the right direction,” Evans said in a statement last year.
The BPD has not returned a request for comment pertaining to the lawsuit.
During the four-year period covered by the June report, the BPD conducted more than 204,000 stops. Of those stopped, 82 percent were male, 42.5 percent were black and 48.5 had prior arrests.
Boston’s reputation for racial disparity stretches back over decades, most visibly when a federal judge’s mandated school integration in 1974.
The repercussions of the mandate, known locally as “forced busing,” were felt as recently as the buildup to the 2013 mayoral election, with some activists calling for a return to “neighborhood schools.”
Law-enforcement activities in communities of color have also met with scrutiny recently, particularly where the altercations involve allegations of excessive force.
In May 2015, Boston activists sent an open letter with more than 400 signatures to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation of BPD, citing instances of police brutality and the 29 people killed by Boston police since 1988, all of whom were black, Latino or Cape Verdean.
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