MINNEAPOLIS—Blacks were 15 times more likely than whites to be arrested or cited in Minneapolis for low-level crimes such as not having a valid driver’s license, according to an analysis of 2001 data.
However the report, issued by the Council on Crime and Justice, also found that such minority cases are less likely to result in a conviction.
“If we were to assume that many of the people with multiple arrests and no convictions were guilty, then the police, prosecutors and courts need to work together to get convictions,” the report stated. “If we were to assume that most of the people that were arrested multiple times without a conviction were innocent, then police arresting practices need to be changed.”
The report analyzed nearly 2,000 cases of seven misdemeanor crimes from 2001. The crime council’s president, Tom Johnson, said he believes the race disparities haven’t changed significantly since then.
The study originated after a 2001 meeting by the council, in which some community members said police used arrests or citations of low-level crimes against people of color as a fishing expedition that might lead to charges for more serious crimes.
Other community members said the low-level cases were not taken seriously enough beyond police contact and created repeat offenders. Black people were acquitted or had the charges dismissed more often, but whites pleaded guilty or were found guilty at a higher rate.
Community activist Ron Edwards said he didn’t need the council to confirm bias in arrests because “we’ve been talking about it as long as I can remember.”
Deputy Police Chief Tim Dolan said the study is skewed, because loitering cases are lumped in with traffic offenses. With community input, the department has developed a new loitering ordinance that will help officers present stronger cases.
Since the data were collected in 2001, the department has installed cameras in squad cars and has changed its policy on how officers identify people receiving a misdemeanor citation.
The study recommended that Mayor R.T. Rybak appoint a work group with police and community members to develop a common understanding of livability offenses and strategies to solve them. It also recommended updating electronic systems so police, courts and other law enforcement can better share data.
The Minneapolis city attorney’s office, which prosecutes the misdemeanor offenses, hadn’t had a chance to review the findings and had no comment, said Deputy City Attorney Dana Banwer.