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Black and other minorities still stopped more often by Spokane police

UPDATED: Mon., May 15, 2017, 11:29 p.m.

Spokane police continue to disproportionately stop black, Native American, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander residents, according to a new study from Eastern Washington University.

The study, presented Monday at the city’s Public Safety Committee, analyzed 39,730 police stops from March 2014 to September 2016.

Ed Byrnes, associate professor of social work at EWU, and Spokane police investigations Capt. Brad Arleth found racial disparities at both city and individual neighborhood levels. To more accurately capture officer decision-making, they only analyzed stops where police decided to contact someone, not calls for service where officers are required to respond. Most were traffic stops.

The work builds on earlier research by the pair, who released a preliminary study in 2015 that found similar disparities. By analyzing more incidents, they were able to drill down into neighborhood-level data to show that disparities persist in most corners of Spokane.

Out of 14 neighborhoods analyzed in Spokane, black people were stopped disproportionately in all, and the difference was statistically significant in 11 of them. Native Americans were overrepresented in police stops in six neighborhoods.

The pair wrote that later disparities in arrests, searches and uses of force appear to arise from the initial disparity in police stops.

“It still appears that a focus for discussing change is at the initial point of contact. Rates of disproportionality appear to increase incrementally from contacts, through searches and arrests, through use of force,” the report says.

The authors recommended convening a commission led by a civilian outside City Hall, with both police and community members involved, to discuss ways to change the disproportionality. A group was formed following the 2015 report as part of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Multicultural Affairs, but stopped meeting and never produced a report or recommendations.

Sandy Williams, the Spokane-area commissioner for the Washington Commission on African-American Affairs, who pushed for the city to continue Byrnes’ research, said she hadn’t received a copy of the new report yet but was eager to read the results.


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