Study: In Minneapolis, people of color far more likely to be arrested for low-level crimes

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People of color are nearly nine times more likely to be arrested by Minneapolis police for a low-level crime than whites, a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union shows.

The study – Picking up the Pieces: Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study, and done by the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Projectanalyzed more than 96,000 arrests made by Minneapolis police for low-level crimes from January 2012 through September 2014.

It found Black people are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested than white people for a low-level crime – that's any offense with a fine of $3,000 or less and/or a year or less in jail; while American Indians are 8.6 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.

The report says the disparities in arrests become "more disconcerting" when the racial makeup of Minneapolis is taken into account:

The report goes into detail about the types of arrests, where they occur most frequently, details on the arrests of homeless people and youths, and takes a look at how police are viewed in poorer neighborhoods in the city. (View the full report here.)

Just like any other city

The Twin Cities is often atop lists ranking the best places to live and work, but TIME points out the disparities and distrust with police in Minneapolis show the city suffers the same problems as many other metropolitan areas.

“Minneapolis police show the same patterns of racial bias that we’re seeing across the country and that demands reform,” Emma Andersson, staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a news release.

She told TIME, "I think communities of color in Minneapolis certainly feel oppressed and targeted in the same ways communities in Baltimore and other places where unrest has occurred."

"It’s very disturbing to see that African Americans and Native Americans continue to face oppression within our criminal justice system,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, told the Guardian. “I think that the results of the ACLU’s findings show that there is a need to overhaul our system of policing.”

Progress – but more needs to be done

The report does note the steps Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau and the department have taken to improve these disparities, but officials say more needs to be done.

Harteau spoke with MPR News Thursday after the study was released and said she wasn't completely surprised by the results, noting the police presence is higher in areas with more crime – and those neighborhoods tend to have large populations of poor people of color.

She also noted efforts to reduce the tension between people of color and police, and said she has asked for a federal audit of the department's disciplinary system.

"The ACLU commends ... Harteau for recent changes, such as adding implicit bias training," Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said in a news release. "However these changes are only a start."

The ACLU is urging Harteau and policymakers to strengthen the department's current ban on racial profiling; ensure the evaluation system doesn't reward officers for number of stops and arrests; establish a civilian review body to discipline officers when necessary; and expand pre-arrest diversion programs.

Mayor: A reminder of the work we have to do

Mayor Betsy Hodges released a statement Thursday, saying she will continue to working to lessen the gap for people of color, adding:

“This data is another reminder of the work that we have in front of us, the work that I am committed to doing. It comes at a fortuitous time as we are focused on criminal justice reform, particularly when it comes to youth. The more information we have, the better."

Hodges also pointed out several initiatives underway to help close equity gaps between people of color and their white counterparts, including youth violence prevention, the Minneapolis Promise Zone and reforming the juvenile justice system.

There are also policy changes underway. City Council members have been pushing to repeal laws that critics say police have used to unfairly target people of color.

The City Council is set to vote to ban these laws next week, MPR News notes.

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