In Palm Beach County, blacks per capita are arrested for marijuana possession nearly five times the rate of whites, according to a recent survey by the ACLU.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and West Palm Beach NAACP President Lia Gaines have markedly different responses.
Bradshaw, whose deputies patrol an area that includes half the county population, had an adamant retort to anyone who says they are targeting blacks.
“We don’t care if the person is white, black, yellow or green,” Bradshaw said. “We arrest the people who commit the crimes.”
But Gaines says the numbers tell a different story.
“These numbers should provoke him to do a review,” she says. “He says they are not targeting blacks, but then he should find out why this happens. This is why people in the community don’t have a high regard for law enforcement. There are lives being ruined here.”
The numbers in question come, in part, from a study released last week by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report found that nationwide 46 percent of all drug-related arrests are for marijuana possession – more than 750,000 per year. The report also found that from 2001 to 2010, per capita, blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though marijuana use by blacks and whites is about equal. In 2010, 14 percent of blacks and 12 percent of whites said they had used marijuana in the previous year, the ACLU report said.Among persons 18 to 25, more whites than blacks say they have used marijuana.
In Palm Beach County, a comparison by the ACLU of population numbers to marijuana arrests shows that blacks are 4.8 times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites.
A Palm Beach Post analysis of marijuana possession arrests, culled from county court records, confirms a large discrepancy between the races. It shows that more than half of those arrested on the charge here since 2000 were black.
In some recent years that figure has approached 60 percent, despite the fact that blacks make up only 17.8 of the county population.
Whites are 77.4 percent of the population, with most Hispanics included in the white category. The rest of the population is largely Asian and mixed-race people. So far in 2013, blacks have made up 60.5 percent of marijuana possession arrests.
Arrest numbers nearly equal
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office patrols areas that contain about half of the county’s 1.35 million residents. Bradshaw confirmed that in 2012, 1,090 blacks and 1,073 whites were charged with either possession or sale of marijuana in those areas. The figures are almost equal, despite the fact that whites outnumber blacks in the PBSO patrol areas more than 3 to 1.
The ACLU report said policing strategies lead law enforcement agencies to place more personnel in low income, minority neighborhoods, leading to more arrests for low level crimes, including marijuana possession. Bradshaw said the ACLU report implied that law enforcement targets blacks. He denied it.
“We respond to complaints,” he said. “We send deputies where crimes are being committed.”
When he was asked what percentage of his deputies were assigned on a regular basis to neighborhoods or towns with large minority populations, he said he could not supply that information. “It’s operational,” he said.
When asked what percentage of the complaints came from which areas of the county, Bradshaw said PBSO didn’t keep that statistic.
“We get 1.2 million calls for service per year,” he said. “I don’t know if we get more calls from minority areas. We don’t track that.”
The NAACP’s Gaines said she was “disheartened” by Bradshaw’s response.
“Given the population numbers, there is no way those arrest records should be the same,” she said. “And given that Hispanics are mixed in with whites, that means that even fewer white people are getting arrested than the numbers indicate.”
‘Where you’re looking’
Gaines said she had seen some national reports that estimated that higher percentages of whites use marijuana than blacks.
“It comes down to where you’re looking,” Gaines said. “If you don’t look in certain parts of town, then you aren’t going to find it in those parts of town. If a black gets stopped in a car and a white gets stopped in a car, who gets searched and who doesn’t? What is he doing about training?”
“Since he doesn’t know where the calls for service come, he should put in place some serious data collection,” Gaines said. “Where are we going with solutions for this?”
She said she wanted to meet with Bradshaw to discuss the issue.
The ACLU report says 62 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession are 24 or younger. The arrests affect those charged in their ability to access public housing, receive student aid and in their employment possibilities, according to the report.
The report also said that in 2010 Florida spent $228 million for police, courts and corrections expenses to deal with those possession cases. All 50 states spent $3.6 billion.
Enforcement of marijuana possession laws has had “a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost,” the report says. “The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime.”
The ACLU report recommends the legalization of possession of marijuana in small amounts for adults. Two states – Colorado and Washington — have in the past year legalized possession for personal use. At least another 13 states decriminalized marijuana possession, meaning it is treated much like traffic ticket, which carries a fine but no criminal charges.
The report attributes the large differences in per capita marijuana arrests nationwide to two policing strategies, called the “broken windows” model and COMPSTAT, a computer data driven system. “Broken windows” works on the assumption that cracking down on petty crimes in neighborhoods with minor decay will prevent bigger crimes, according to the report. COMPSTAT can encourage police to use numbers of arrests to measure police performance in different zones.
They both result in more law enforcement agents being assigned to low income, minority neighborhoods, according to the report. Bradshaw denied that PBSO uses either strategy.
He was also asked if the fact that in minority neighborhoods more people, especially young people, tend to spend more time on the street, makes it more likely they will come in contact with police patrols and possibly end up arrested for marijuana possession. He said he thought that was a possibility.
“Some people don’t have to sit on the sidewalk smoking dope. They have someplace else to go,” he said.
10 times higher in Martin
Martin County has an even higher discrepancy in arrests per capita: Blacks are 9.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, according to the ACLU report.
Sheriff Bill Snyder of Martin County also denied that there was any targeting of blacks in marijuana enforcement in his jurisdiction. But he said he had no answer for the discrepancy in arrest rates.
“My criteria for deploying deputies is calls for service,” Snyder said. “We don’t look at income levels or socio-economic levels of neighborhoods.”
Snyder said his deputies do have coverage zones and the number of deputies assigned to specific zones is based on the history of service calls from those areas. Like Bradshaw, Snyder said he did not know if more calls came from predominately minority parts of the county than white parts and gave no figures for police deployed in specific parts of the county.
He also said that minority neighborhoods in Martin are smaller than in Palm Beach County and that the street life that exists in some Palm Beach County communities does not exist in Martin.
“We don’t have the larger, challenged neighborhoods Palm Beach has,” he said.
Snyder challenged the ACLU report, saying that he did not believe that the discrepancies in arrest rates could be attributed to police patrolling methods.
Captain David Bernhardt of the West Palm Beach Police Department also said that his department does not use either “broken windows” model or COMPSTAT to deploy police.
“We deploy our officers based upon citizen complaints, calls for service and crime trends,” he said, in part echoing the two sheriffs. “Deployment changes on a daily basis according to these three characteristics.”
For example, he said, there was a recent spate of auto burglaries off Village Boulevard. “Evening commanders adjusted their resources to resolve that trend,” he said.
But he did not supply numbers for where patrol officers are deployed on a regular basis or how that is determined.
Fla. third highest in U.S.
In 2010, Florida as a whole had the third-highest number of arrests for marijuana possession of blacks in the nation: 26,711, behind New York and Illinois. A total of 30,895 whites were arrested in Florida that year. That translates into 46.1 percent of marijuana arrests involving blacks while the black population in the state is 13.3 percent.
According to the ACLU, Broward County had 3.7 times more blacks per capita charged with marijuana possession than white. The number in Miami-Dade was 5.4 times.
Staff Researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this report.
Where we got the numbers
This story cites statistics from three different sources:
The ACLU study which is based on Federal Uniform Crime Reports data reported by state and local law enforcement agencies, from 2001-1010.
A Palm Beach Post analysis of Palm Beach County Clerk of the Court data;
The numbers cited by Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Due to different methodologies, the numbers are not identical though all of them corroborate the general thesis that blacks are more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than are non blacks