MASSACHUSETTS: Local police and elected officials say law enforcement agencies in Bristol County do not target minorities for marijuana possession as suggested by a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Absolutely not. I haven’t seen any evidence of it,” Somerset Police Chief Joseph Ferreira said.
“Our arrests are based on the facts of the case. We don’t make arrests or issue citations based upon the minority status of anyone,” Swansea Police Lt. Greg Ryan said.
The ACLU released its report — entitled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted in Racially-biased Arrest” — last month indicating that black people nationwide are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
The statistical analysis was based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, for which local, county and state law enforcement departments across the nation provide statistics on the numbers of crimes and arrests reported in a given year.
In 2010, black people in Bristol County were 3.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU analysis, which indicated that Barnstable County — where blacks were reportedly 11 times more likely to be arrested — ranked 14th in the nation for that disparity. In Plymouth County, blacks were 10.5 times more likely to be arrested, the ACLU said.
However, law enforcement officials said the statistics do not show a complete picture in that they do not take account factors such as whether marijuana arrests occurred during “high-energy” patrols in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” Marijuana possession, officials said, is also often a secondary offense in a criminal case where a defendant is charged with more serious crimes.
“You’d have to see what the population for police encounters is and then see if a particular grouping was more likely to get arrested in a similar situation,” said Taunton Police Chief Edward Walsh, who added that, “anecdotally,” he has not seen any disparities between whites and minorities being arrested.
“Generally, at the local level, unless something else is going on, marijuana possession is under the radar,” Walsh said, adding that officers often do not encounter marijuana unless there is an “ancillary situation” such as domestic violence or other violent crimes.
New Bedford Police Chief David Provencher said the statistics might be skewed by a high number of arrests happening at one time in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” But over the course of a year, Provencher said, the ACLU’s conclusion “is a strong statement based on an assertion without taking into account a whole bunch of other variables.”