We have been asked about the Citizens for Juvenile Justice report regarding the New Bedford Police Department. The department takes seriously any allegation of disparate treatment by law enforcement, and our mission is to ensure community policing that keeps all residents and neighborhoods safe.
The methodology used by the organization is deeply concerning and displays a lack of familiarity with police recordkeeping and with New Bedford itself. The very foundation of the report, namely field incident reports, are misrepresented in number: the department provided 2,210 reports to the organization, which miscalculated and misreported the number as 4,997 – likely drawn from the number of individuals observed, many of whom were observed more than once, and do not represent unique individuals, which is also omitted in the report.
A list of the total field incident reports, adding up to 2,210, is below.
In light of this fundamental discrepancy, it is impossible to make sense of much of the rest of the report. The report does not define the term ‘incident,’ and only defines field incident reports, but acknowledges that field incident reports do not necessarily indicate stops. The report includes ‘incident’ and ‘stop’ data without sources or explanation of how the data was tabulated, or whether the data was conflated.
Field incident reports do not necessarily indicate physical interaction involving the police; they typically reflect observations conducted from a distance or even via social media. They do not necessarily indicate that an individual was approached, stopped, or interviewed, nor do they imply criminal behavior; oftentimes they represent observations of individuals known to police in locations where the risk of violence may be high, including the location of past homicides.
It is also disappointing that the organization did not verify crucial facts, including many recommendations the report made, which the New Bedford Police Department had already implemented. Many of the observations appear to be based in error or assumptions about New Bedford’s geography and the ethnic composition of its neighborhoods.
There are other discrepancies that further undermine the report’s credibility:
– The high energy patrol initiative referenced in the report was rescinded by Chief Cordeiro in January.
– The claim by the report that the department has no field incident report policy is false, as is the claim that officers are eligible for promotion due to field incident reports. The policy concerning field incident reports is part of the department’s General Order 4-05.
– The report’s author(s) acknowledged during a public presentation that only five anonymous New Bedford residents were interviewed to draw conclusions about the perception of policing in the city.
– It is not noted that the public housing development at the New Bedford Hotel is a senior living facility, while the report suggests field incident reports in the neighborhood of the New Bedford Hotel are related to residents of the building.
– On Figure 9 in Page 12 of its report, the organization references “New Bedford juvenile arrest rates,” showing a total of more than 4,000 arrests in some years; the data appears to be drawn from data in cities across the state, with several selected on the map. New Bedford’s data is a fraction of what was misrepresented in the report. New Bedford’s data is below, from the state website:
While we are concerned about the accuracy and credibility of the report itself, we take the issues it discusses seriously, and believe this is an important opportunity for the New Bedford Police Department to share some accurate information about the department.
We are also incredibly proud of our diverse police force, where nearly 25% of officers identify as men and women of color—15% identifying as black, 6% Latino, and 4% American Indian. The men and women of this department have spent years and years of their lives serving and protecting youth of all races and backgrounds in New Bedford. Whether it be through formal programs like the SRO unit, Walk and Talk, High-Five Fridays or practicing the tenets of Community Policing, each one of them has been there for our City’s youth.
Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro is 100% in support our officers in their mission to ensure public safety and continued collaboration with our community. He continues to support open community dialogue to foster a strong bond between Officers and our youth.
Many recommendations of the report do not consider the department’s existing initiatives or a lack of basic understanding of the authority behind some of the recommendations, which cannot be implemented by the department itself, for instance:
– Require body cameras: The police chief, mayor, and police union president support this proposal, and have indicated this publicly in news reports in the past.- More patrol officers of color: New Bedford’s police force is diverse, reflective of the city it serves, and this recommendation has long been implemented
– Police rent discount in public housing, which is recommended both as Recommendation 4 and Recommendation 10: This is not a policy under the authority of the Police Department, but rather the independent housing authority. It is also recommended by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which recommends: “Law enforcement agencies should institute residency incentive programs such as Resident Officer Programs. Resident Officer Programs are arrangements where law enforcement officers are provided housing in public housing neighborhoods as long as they fulfill public safety duties within the neighborhood that have been agreed to between the housing authority and the law enforcement agency.” (1.5.2 Action Item)
– Non-policing youth development: The department’s Shannon Outreach serves 10 to 24-year-olds, the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative serving 17- to 24-year-olds, YWCA Youth Dialog and Juvenile Assisted Diversion. These programs are strategic initiatives that are redefining the lives of our city’s youth.
The issues raised by the report are serious, but the inaccuracies, errors, and its lack of sourcing, definitions of terms, and attention to detail make the report difficult to follow and its findings dubious.
The issue of policing in an equitable, fair, and culturally competent manner is important in New Bedford and across the country, and the New Bedford Police Department has taken significant steps both recently and in years past to ensure that policing is conducted thoughtfully in our city. Our work is not done, and we remain committed to continuing the conversation around the issues, as well as to continuing the community-based policing philosophy that has led to a significant reduction in crime across the city over the past five years.