LETTER: Group Seeks Racial Equity in Policing in Watertown

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The following piece was provided by the Watertown Joint Police Reform Group:

Given the national dialogue about the disparate impact policing has had on people of color throughout our history, it should come as no surprise that Watertown is also impacted by systemic racism. For example, in 2018-19 Black residents were arrested at a rate 5-6 times their percentage of the Watertown population.

Watertown Joint Police Reform Group (WJPRG) is a coalition of four grassroots citizen groups that has been working on police reform proposals since last summer. The coalition comprises Uplift Watertown, Watertown Citizens for Black Lives (WCBL), the Kingian Response Team Working Group on Non-Violence Training, and the Kingian Response Team Working Group on a Watertown Police Department (WPD) Community Advisory Board. The group hopes to raise awareness among town residents of the practical ways that the WPD could address the disparate impacts of policing on people of color.

After analyzing several years of WPD data on citations and arrests, WCBL has determined that Watertown suffers from significant racial disparities in its policing. In a recent collaborative meeting of WCBL and the WPD, the WPD acknowledged that its own report states that “a review of field inquiry, arrest and citations statistics by race and gender reveal the following: […] African American individuals are overrepresented in all three categories.”

In the spirit of the Kingian pledge to Listen-Learn-Grow-Act, the group conducted research and developed proposals that will be presented to the Town Council Public Safety Committee and the WPD in the following four areas:  

  1. Regularly analyze data on policing activities, implement remedies to documented racial disparities, and ensure that WPD aligns its use of force and other policies with the new Massachusetts Police Reform Law.
  2. Provide Kingian nonviolence and antiracism training to all WPD officers, and increase diversity, inclusion, and equity in the Police Department. 
  3. Develop new, collaborative approaches to address common root causes of police calls and crime and reallocate budgets accordingly.
  4. Create a voluntary WPD/Community Advisory Board or other official mechanism for community input.

WJPRG had been patiently awaiting the outcome of the state police reform effort before presenting its concerns, and can understand the priority given to addressing urgent needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. WJPRG was ready to present its work and proposals on WPD’s services and operations to a Public Safety Committee meeting on February 26. Unfortunately, this meeting was postponed. The WJPRG looks forward to continued collaborative work with the WPD and the Town Council, including a rescheduled Public Safety Committee meeting as soon as possible. The WJPRG encourages everyone to attend and get involved.

27 thoughts on “LETTER: Group Seeks Racial Equity in Policing in Watertown

  1. Ok. Research is good.

    But who says that the arrest rate of Blacks/people of color has to be equal to the arrest rates of others?

    Are the past records of the Black people/people of color arrested worse?

    Are their offenses more serious?

    What about the actual conviction rates?

    One cannot just look at raw statistics and make a conclusion.

    • I am imagining that you are a white person making this comment and are perhaps not fully aware of how harmful your comments are. Would you be asking these same questions if the police department was mainly POC and whites were arrested at a rate of 5 to 6 times higher than other populations in town? I think you would actually be asking much different questions, wouldn’t you? Also, the only conclusion is that there is a racial disparity, which is a fact, and a request for the Watertown Police Department to discuss why that exists.

  2. So if a black person from another city or town is arrested for committing a crime in Watertown, do we just let him or her walk away free so as help erase this “systemic racism”? Who are these people making these charges?

    • So, is your argument that you feel that black people are probably committing crimes at a rate of 5 or 6 times that of the white people in town? I find it curious that you are coming at this from the place of “they must be guilty” instead of “there might be something wrong with the system that is producing this result”

      • So your argument is that the police are arresting people for no reason? I would think it takes a lot to get arrested in the state of Massachusetts.

        • The issue is that this joint group in Watertown is asking the police department to explain why Black citizens in town are being arrested at a rate of 5 or 6 times that of white citizens. My point is that it seems to me that this could be a case of systemic racism playing out in our town and the WPD should have to justify these numbers. It sounds to me like you believe that the police are perfectly justified in their arrest behavior and that Black citizens in Watertown simply break the law 5 or 6 times more than white citizens. Is that what you are saying?

          • Why do you have a problem with the fact the people are arrested when they commit a crime? Crime happens and the fact that 14 residents out of about 750 isn’t exactly outrageous. Especially when the police are called to respond to an incident that results in an arrest. Find another cause that is a actually affecting this community. Im tired of all this virtue signaling. Volunteer at the boys & girls club if you want to make a difference in town. I appreciate the job the police do in this town and I have yet to hear of ANY complaints by black residents in this town regarding the police department.

          • I’m sorry I meant 14 arrested out of the approximately 750 or 780 black residents. Isn’t that the complaint? That too many black residents are arrested? The 372 arrests were for all arrests including non-residents I believe.

  3. “Black residents were arrested at a rate 5-6 times their percentage of the Watertown population.” This is factually incorrect. Simply not true. In 2018 (based on public records), WPD had 8 arrests of Black residents where they had discretion out of a total of 372 arrests – 2.1%. This is consistent across 2019 too. Let’s not have the facts get in the way of this narrative. Charlie – disappointing letters like this get published without some level of validation. Does it even make sense what you read it “Black residents were arrested at a rate 5-6 times their percentage of the Watertown population”? If this is the case, don’t you think there would be uproar. Indignation from east to west Watertown. So how many complaints have been lodged at the local or state level against WPD? The answer is zero. While we all need to be cognizant of the times we are in, it’s sad that some need to make incendiary and glaringly false comments to make your point.

      • You need to look at the stats for Black Watertown residents. There were 14 Black Watertown residents arrested. 6 of those were for offenses that require mandatory arrest by police based on offense to which police were called to residences.

        “For example, in 2018-19 Black residents were arrested at a rate 5-6 times their percentage of the Watertown population.” This is not a true statement. You are not 5-6 more times to be arrested if you are a Black Watertown resident.

        Happy to walk you through the math. I used the same source. The view presented here is simply being used to support an incorrect narrative.

        • It seems to me that you are comparing apples and oranges. For example, in your first statement you only include arrests where you say WPD does not have discretion when you report the number of Black residents arrested. However, you give the total number of arrests in the denominator. Assuming that non-Black people are also sometimes arrested for offenses over which WPD has no discretion, you should include them in your numerator. So over the total of all arrests, by your own number, that’s 3.8% (14/372). But then the denominator is still for all arrests, while the numerator is residents only. You need to say what the total number of residents arrested was. That’s going to be higher.

          The percentage of Watertown residents identifying as Black or African-American is 1.6%, from the Census Bureau:
          https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/watertowntowncitymassachusetts/PST045219
          So, since by your own numbers the relative rate is 3.8%/1.6%, which is already greater than 2.5, and the actual number will be higher, based on arrests of residents (which you didn’t report) rather than total arrests, it seems plausible to me that a Black or African-American resident is 5-6 times more likely to be a arrested than one who isn’t. It doesn’t seem to me that you have disproved the authors’ claim.

          That said, I am pleased to see that you think this justifies an uproar. It is certainly upsetting to me. Furthermore, when you say that there have been no complaints against the WPD, I would say that the people who wrote this letter are bringing a complaint, based on the statistics. So, I hope that in future you will say that at least one complaint has been brought.

    • Thanks for engaging with this data. For everyone on this thread’s reference, this data came from WPD’s own report, which they were going to present in last Friday’s postponed subcommittee meeting. That report is publicly available here: https://www.watertown-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/31377/2021-02-26-WPD-Racial-Data-presentation_Feb112021

      According to slide 6, “14 Black Residents were arrested in 2018 (10% of residential arrests).” So that we’re completely clear on the calculation: 14 Black residents arrested/139 residents arrested total = 10%. It is worth pointing out here that this calculation comes from WPD themselves. According to the US Census Bureau, Black people made up 2.0% of the Watertown population in 2018. Thus, there was a five-fold disparity (10.0%/2.0% = 5) in the actual arrest rate of Black residents and the arrest rate we’d expect based on Watertown population demographics. In 2019, this disparity was six-fold, hence why we said the disparity was 5-6 fold in 2018-19.

      You claim that “WPD had 8 arrests of Black residents where they had discretion out of a total of 372 arrests – 2.1%.” As pointed out above, your denominator is incorrect here. Since you are using as your numerator discretionary arrests of Black residents, your denominator needs to be discretionary arrests of all residents. Otherwise, the calculation is meaningless.

      • Of the 372 arrests, 14 were Black Watertown residents.

        Of those fourteen (14), six (6) arrests were for domestic violence. There is no police discretion when it comes to arrests for domestic violence. As reminder, the police were responding to 911 calls to these residences.

        I, for one, have zero tolerance when to comes to making arrests for domestic violence. Maybe some in this discussion feels differently about domestic violence.

        So of the total number of arrests, 8 Black Watertown residents were arrested where WPD could have had some discretion so 2.1% of total arrests were on Black Watertown residents.

        Statistically speaking, your math is inaccurate. Comparing the number of arrest to the % of population in town is meaningless. But if you choose that route, you have to use the 372 count as you are using the 2% of the total population to justify your flawed math.

        In absolute terms, WPD is materially lower than all bordering towns.

        My guess is you believe Cambridge, Belmont, Waltham and Newton are full of racist police officers to this is certainly the implication – just say it?

      • I think Harry said it best in the first comment:

        “Ok. Research is good.

        But who says that the arrest rate of Blacks/people of color has to be equal to the arrest rates of others?

        Are the past records of the Black people/people of color arrested worse?

        Are their offenses more serious?”

        What about the actual conviction rates?

        One cannot just look at raw statistics and make a conclusion.”

        These raw statistics alone are flimsy evidence for branding a police department as racist. If there were actual examples of police harassment in Watertown, you would have provided them.

        I hope our Town Council does not fall for this.

  4. This is the data from the Watertown Police Department’s own records:

    “A review of field inquiry, arrest and citation statistics by race and gender reveal the following:
    African American individuals are overrepresented in all three categories.”
    “White individuals are slightly under-represented in all three categories.”
    “Hispanic individuals are overrepresented in arrest numbers and field inquiries but slightly underrepresented in citations.”

    “Arrest statistics were reviewed. In the year 2019 the Watertown Police Department made 288 arrests, the exact same total as the previous calendar year. This number includes individuals taken into protective custody.

    2019 On site arrests by by Watertown Police Department
    Race:
    Asian: 13 (4.5%)
    Black: 50 (17.4%)
    White: 224 (77.8%)
    American Indian: 0
    Unknown: 1 (.3%)

    Ethnicity:
    Hispanic: 55 (19.1%)
    Not Hispanic: 209 (72.6%)
    Unknown: 24 (8.3%)”

    “Below statistics are estimates of Watertown’s population and demographics based on the most recent United States census (workdpopulationreview.com and city-data.com)….
    2020 Breakdown:
    29357 – 83.63% White alone
    3,398 – 9.7% Hispanic
    2,980 – 8.49% Asian alone
    712 – 2.03% Black alone
    743 – 2.12% Two or more races
    1,200 – 3.42% Other race alone
    111 – .32% American Indian alone”

  5. Some of the information coming out in the past few months about the WPD is very troubling. First, was the piece in the Boston Herald by Howie Carr outlining a very concerning lawsuit from a detective in town against the WPD and the Town. In it, she accuses the WPD of a pattern of harassment and bullying. If her allegations are true or if she wins this case then I think it’s time for a good look at the atmosphere at WPD and a much needed change in leadership.

    Now hearing about these statistics adds to the concern. My understanding is that this is the data that WPD provided to these organizations.

    Personally, I do believe Watertown to be a more racist community than some of our neighbors. While we are very diverse we are not very tolerant. I have personally witnessed this many times over the years of living in this town. This also ties in with the the ongoing problems in the schools and the lack of action by school and town officials.

    • I have lived in Watertown for the past 10 years and haven’t heard of any racial incidents or complaints from black citizens against the Watertown police. This sounds like a lot of white guilt to me from people who don’t have a clue about what the police have to do. If they are called out for a robbery and the person is black what are they supposed to do? Maybe these groups should try to focus on helping the underserved youth in their community who may need help so they don’t end up in a criminal situation.

      • I need some clarity. Please help me understand.

        Are you saying, because you haven’t heard of any racial incidents or complaints from Black citizens against the police in the 10 years you have lived in Watertown, that that none exist?

        When you ask “If they are called out for a robbery and the person is black what are they supposed to do? ” Are you suggesting that the groups or individuals pointing out WPD arrest disparities are asking the Police to not do their job?

        Did you know that that exposing racial disparities within a police department and in general is a way to help communities, who have been historically underserved?

        When you say “in their community” are you assuming that people from the groups posting, come from a communities where there are underserved youth and/or are not already working with underserved youth?

        Lastly, what is your definition of white guilt?

  6. No one is saying not to call the PD if you are getting robbed, what we are asking for is a review to confirm there are proper checks and balances in-place, for officers to get updated training (similar to what other communities are doing) and to ensure we don’t have an issue of systematic racism on our hands. What is wrong with having the conversation? It’s easy to say there is no issue when you come from a place from privilege – it’s another if you are a community member who feels targeted. We are not perfect- we’ve been in the news for racism and bullying in our schools, we’ve been in the paper for misconduct in our PD… why should we not want to do better? We can all do better.

  7. Biggest problem with the WPD is that the chief of police was a political hire who clearly was not the best individual for the job.

  8. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people getting arrested in town especially at Target for shoplifting, no matter their race color or religion, are not residents

  9. Of the 14 arrests of Black residents within a particular time-frame, is it possible to determine if any one person was arrested, and counted, more than once?

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