Anniston Star Editorial Board

An article in Friday’s Anniston Star drew the ire of the Anniston Police Department and its supporters on social media.

The article reported on statistics provided by city officials detailing the frequency of police stops and arrests, breaking those numbers down according to race — black, white and other.

Facebook commenters describe the article as a hit piece, fake news and an obvious attempt to attack police and sell newspapers.

To the contrary, The Anniston Star works closely with Anniston PD and applauds its efforts to address crime through community policing, including the creation of a community-based committee tasked with following up on complaints from residents.

No, we’re not out to get the police. Here’s what actually happened.

A week ago, the NAACP held a meeting at the Anniston City Meeting Center where residents accused APD of disproportionately making traffic stops on African-Americans.

Their evidence, however, was all anecdotal. Coverage of that story also provided the response from city officials and police denying any notion of racial profiling.

As journalists, our aim is always to pursue truth, and collecting and reporting actual numbers is a non biased way to do that.

It’s what we did when Councilman Ben Little claimed that his district’s requests for work orders consistently failed to get response from the city. An examination of the work orders, however, showed that Ward 3 actually had almost twice as many completed work orders as any of the other wards.

So, we were thankful to receive a police activity report last week from City Councilwoman Millie Harris. That report gave a breakdown of 2018 statistics that showed blacks being pulled over 46 percent of the time, but only representing 35.5 percent of the population.

That figure, however, includes the police jurisdiction, a 3-mile radius outside the city limits.

In a follow-up conversation, Chief Shane Denham on Friday pointed out that 82 percent of the department’s stops are made inside the city limits and that most of APD’s activity in the police jurisdiction involves responding to calls for basic services. When looking at the statistics for only the city limits, the percentage that blacks are stopped is more in line with the black population, which is slightly higher than the population of whites.

Beyond the percentages, Denham said the raw numbers show that, overall, APD arrested more whites than blacks. Indeed, in 2018, Anniston police arrested 1,023 African Americans and 1,217 Caucasians, according to the city’s report.

Also, the statistics in the report included the police jurisdiction, but did not include the number of arrests made solely inside the city limits.

Realizing the consequences of statistics that seem to point to any racial disparity, The Star contacted an independent expert, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, and asked for her interpretation of the statistics. She said, while the percentages raise questions that should be pursued, there could be several contributing factors behind the statistics, factors that can’t be quantified, like the circumstances around each stop.

Chief Denham said his officers receive anti-bias training and are motivated by preventing and solving crime, not race.

Denham made it clear that he was not happy with the article, and we understand that. Any time race is made the basis of an accusation, it’s a sensitive matter.

That’s why we turned to the numbers. Even if some believe it wasn’t fully successful, it was an effort to bring clarity to a claim that had been made against police.

 

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