Tuesday, December 19, 2006

San Francisco police arrest African Americans for serious crime at a much higher rate than officers in California's other biggest cities

Susan Sward:

Black people in San Francisco are arrested for felonies at nearly twice the rate they are in Sacramento. They are arrested at twice the rate of black people in Fresno, three times the rate in San Jose, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, and four times the rate in Oakland.

The disparity between San Francisco's black felony arrest rates and the seven other largest cities' -- measured by the number of African Americans arrested per 1,000 black residents -- is so large that many experts and civic leaders who reviewed the numbers said they are "disturbing" and require an investigation.

The numbers prompt several questions, all of which basically boil down to this: Is the high arrest rate of African Americans because of the way the San Francisco Police Department does its policing, or because of criminal activity within the community?

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief Heather Fong said they do not think the department is going after African Americans in an unfair manner. They also said they were consulting experts to try to learn why the arrest numbers look the way they do.

Newsom said he found the numbers "outrageous" but was not shocked by them because of the time he has spent attempting to tackle the root causes of poverty.

"There is no question in my mind that this deserves immediate attention and investigation, and I will be doing that," Newsom said. He said the investigation would be conducted by a University of South Florida criminologist, Lorie Fridell, who will "do aggressive data analysis" of the arrest numbers and report back to him and Fong in about two months.

While Fong said the arrest numbers merit review, she suggested that the disparity exists in part because the perception that sometimes San Francisco is "soft on crime'' may draw criminals from out of the city who feel they can come here and "not be held accountable.''

Fong's staff said they hand-counted arrests made by the Tenderloin Task Force last year and found that more than 60 percent of the African Americans arrested were listed on booking cards as "no local" -- a term often applied to transients -- or gave addresses outside San Francisco. The department does not have similar data for other districts besides the Tenderloin, which police looked at because they believe many nonresidents are involved in drug dealing and other crimes there.

San Francisco officers arrest criminal suspects as they find them, not based on the color of their skin, Fong said.

"I don't think just by looking at the numbers, you can prove or disprove that there is any targeting," she said, adding that factors such as repeat offenders and out-of-town criminals influence the numbers.

Newsom Calls For Investigation Of SF Arrests

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