Analysis: Blacks in Madison Arrested at More than 10 Times Rate of Whites

Nico Savidge, Wisconsin State Journal, August 31, 2015

A black person in Madison is over 10 times more likely than a white person to be arrested, according to data analyzed by the State Journal that showed African-Americans–who make up about 7 percent of the city’s population–account for 45 percent of arrests.

The vastly different rates of arrest are the latest statistical measure of racial disparities in Wisconsin’s capital city, a place where, data have shown, blacks are much more likely than whites to struggle in school, live in poverty and be arrested and incarcerated.

A State Journal review of two years of Madison Police Department arrests found authorities arrested whites at a rate of 2.6 arrests per 100 white residents annually.

African-Americans, meanwhile, wound up in handcuffs at a rate of 27.6 arrests per 100 residents each year–more than 10 times the rate of whites. Hispanics were also more likely than whites to be arrested.

Brandi Grayson, a co-founder of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition and an outspoken critic of Madison police and local disparities, said the extent of the difference in arrest rates was a surprise.

“It’s worse, in a sense, than I expected,” Grayson said.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval called the disparity “stark” and said he supports efforts to reform aspects of the criminal justice system that disproportionately burden people of color as one way to reduce the city’s black arrest rate.

But Koval also said the high rates were in part the result of disparities that exist in “each and every element of our society.”

He pushed back against the idea that the differing arrest rates were the result of racism on the part of police officers, or that police were the only actors responsible for the disparity.

“That’s just not the case,” Koval said.

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Madison is far from the only city in which African-Americans make up a disproportionate share of those arrested. The difference here, however, is just how large the gap is between black and white arrest rates.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, African-Americans nationally were arrested at a rate of 7.9 arrests per 100 people in 2012, the most recent year for which data were available, compared to a white rate of 3.4 arrests per 100 people.

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Most Hispanics are instead counted as white in the national data.

In Madison, Hispanics were arrested at an annual rate of 4.3 arrests per 100 residents, meaning they were 1.65 times more likely than whites to be arrested.

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Department data showed that nearly all of the incidents MPD officers respond to are the result of calls from the public for police services, Koval said. Officers self-initiate less than 2 percent of incidents, he said.

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But Grayson contends the disparities in arrest rates ultimately have their roots in institutional racism at MPD and in society more broadly, saying they won’t change unless the department takes the uncomfortable step of acknowledging that and working against it.

“The reality and the depth of racism is what it is–I didn’t create it, you didn’t create it, it is what it is,” Grayson said. “So are we going to accept it or excuse it? Or are we really going to do something about it?”

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