By Nancy Thorner & Ed Ingold –
According the Eric Holder and the DOJ, the police in Ferguson, MO, systematically target blacks for major and minor offenses. While percentage-wise 67% of Ferguson’s population is black, they account for 92% of all arrests. Is this evidence that Ferguson patently unfair to blacks on a statistical basis?
The DOJ report accordingly concludes that blacks in Ferguson are arrested out of proportion with their population. However, the DOJ does not account for the offense pattern of demographic groups. FBI statistics for 2014 indicate that blacks at 13.2% of the population committed 63.6% (53238/83670) of all violent offenses (murder, rape and robbery). By inference, non-blacks at 86.8% of the population committed 36.4% of violent offenses. The FBI does not track minor offenses like traffic violations and jaywalking, but anecdotal evidence suggests that their rate of offenses is higher in these areas too.
Using the information we do know with relative certainty, this is how the violent offense rate and Ferguson demographics would affect the DOJ conclusion:
- Black incidents: 67/13.2 * 0.636 = 1.638
- Non-black incidents: 33/86.8 * 0.364 = 0.138
- Relative Black Incidents = 1.638/(1.638 + 0.138) = 0.922
In other words, if Ferguson followed the national trend, 92% of arrests for violent altercations would be of black offenders. We do not know the minor offense behavior by race in Ferguson; however, national statistics suggest that the 92% arrest rate tabulated by the DOJ is not unreasonable. National statistics therefore belie the claim of racial targeting by the Ferguson police department. The same is true of the conclusion reached by Milwaukee County Sheriff, David Clarke.
While math might seem wonky to the general population, it does indicate that Holder’s speech and report are highly misleading. The facts aren’t on his side, nor is the law. It’s the pocketbook. The DOJ has a $28 billion budget for civil rights prosecutions, vastly more than any one town can put up to fight the charges, making it much cheaper for communities to capitulate rather than fight spurious charges.
Whether Ferguson, and many other communities, target minor offenses in order to generate revenue is a separate issue, which probably applies to all cities, large and small, in every state of the union. For example, do red light cameras reduce traffic accidents at intersections (some accidents reduced, others increased, net positive) or generate millions of dollars in civil forfeitures (civil rules of evidence are relaxed). In Chicago, red light cameras generate about $500 million in revenue, but rear end collisions (which are disproportionately expensive) have increased with no significant reduction in cross traffic collisions.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) once said, “There are liars, damned liars and statisticians.” (or was it politicians?). An interesting book written in 1954, “How to Lie with Statistics”, is a must-read for would-be statisticians and economists.