WESTBROOK — St. Joseph’s College will conduct a study of Westbrook Police Departments’ use-of-force data from 2016-2019 in hopes of identifying possible issues of racial bias.
The study comes as a response to an American Journal story about the frequency force is used on Black people compared to the rest of the population. Between 2016 and 2019, 14%-17% of officers’ use of force involved Black people, who make up just 2.3% of Westbrook’s population, according to the 2010 census demographics, the most recent available.
“While we do not know what the outcomes will be, in modeling our core values of professionalism, accountability, compassion, integrity, fairness and courage, if the results indicate unfair treatment of People of Color, or any group, we expect to own it, identify ways to change, and implement the changes,” Police Chief Janine Roberts said. “These steps are integral to maintaining the trust we have built among the community we serve and to further build trust among our People of Color community.”
Professor Meredith Emigh-Guy is leading the analysis over five weeks.
“I will include national context in the report provided to Westbrook PD,” Emigh-Guy wrote in an email to the American Journal. “Beyond that, I don’t want to speculate on outcomes or timelines — data entry can be a slow process.”
According to the contract between the city and the college, signed Oct. 19, the analysis will cover race, age and sex in all use-of-force incidents, when they occurred, what percentage of use of force came from self-initiated stops or calls from residents, what percentage of incidents were related to mental illness or drugs, what percentage of suspects had long histories of violence and more.
In a previous American Journal story, advocates said that while existing data needs to be expanded on it does show a trend of prejudice.
“Obviously it’s disproportionate,” Harrison Deah, a racial equity advocate and director of Westbrook’s General Assistance office, said in a previous interview. “This conversation has to be ongoing in order to address this kind of issue, there are more questions to be asked.”
“]Read more about Westbrook Police data[/mtm-related-link]
The study will come at no cost to the city, Bryant said.
“Having an outside entity with training and experience in conducting data analysis is a means to give credibility to the analysis results,” Roberts said. “We expect the data Professor Emigh-Guy is analyzing will provide more context to the basic statistics and guide us in determining if there is anything we need to modify to ensure our officers are using force equitably.”
St. Joseph’s is also doing the study because the Police Department lacks the staffing power and the technology platform needed to dig deeper into the data and break down each incident, Roberts said in a previous American Journal interview. Requests for specific data regarding the number of times force is used are new to the department, she said.