Black residents are more likely to be interviewed or detained by Fresno police than other races in cases where a suspect’s description isn’t provided or a specific crime hasn’t been reported, department data released by the city’s police auditor shows.
Auditor Richard Rasmussen of the Office of Independent Review shared the numbers this week as part of his quarterly report, which looked at police activity from April 1 to June 30.
The charts detail discretionary policing field interviews and detentions. Discretionary policing is when an officer detains or interviews someone based on a judgment call, not a specific suspect description. For example, that officer may choose to talk to someone who he or she believes is acting suspiciously on a street corner.
The numbers show that blacks, who make up about 8 percent of the population according to city data, accounted for 24 percent of the field interviews and 25 percent of the detentions.
Rasmussen notes that these numbers usually don’t count interviews and detentions in which police are looking for a suspect based on a witness’s description. For example, if a robbery victim told police to find a white man in a green SUV, the stops of all vehicles or suspects matching that description would typically be included in that case file – not in this overflow data.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer did not dispute the numbers. He said the department’s No. 1 focus over the past 18 months has been curbing violence among black gangs. He also noted that black suspects were responsible for 53 percent of the shootings in Fresno since Jan. 1, 2015, when investigators know the race of the shooter.
The numbers from the quarterly report break down like this:
▪ 1,625 discretionary field interviews were conducted from April 1 to June 30.
▪ 396 of those interviewed were black.
▪ 341 were white. This was about 21 percent of the interviews. City data notes that 30 percent of Fresno’s population identifies as white.
▪ 784 were Hispanic, about 48 percent of the interviews. Hispanics account for 47 percent of the population.
▪ 55 were Asian, about 3 percent. Asians account for 12 percent of the population.
Rasmussen declined to make any comments about what the data means. He said he shared them simply for transparency’s sake, given the “many complaints” made against officers’ perceived bias in formal and informal community meetings.
25 percentTwelve of the 48 people detained in Fresno police discretionary actions were black.
Similar numbers for traffic stops were not available due to a mix-up with the department’s third-party vendor. The office will share those figures in the next quarterly report.
The chief says it’s violence, not bias
Dyer shared his interpretation of the numbers.
“I don’t believe they’re surprising to any of us in law enforcement,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate reality that there has been an increase in gang feuds between African American gangs in our city.”
Dyer had some numbers of his own. In 2015, there were 408 shootings in Fresno. Police knew the race of the shooter in 231. Of those, 123 were committed by black suspects. Hispanics committed 92 shootings, while Asian and white suspects accounted for nine and six, respectively.
These figures drove the department to launch a series of operations targeting black gangs. As part of this, officers have increased the number of discretionary interviews of blacks in areas wracked with gang violence. Dyer cited the northwest Fresno neighborhood near Brawley and Dakota avenues, where several black gang-related shootings occurred within a few weeks last year, as an example.
In April, the Fresno Police Department announced “the crippling” of the notorious Dog Pound Gang after an exhaustive, multi-agency operation. In all, 28 men – all of them black and most confirmed gang members – were arrested in the sweep.
Innocent homeowners in these gang-troubled areas often call police for help, Dyer said. If someone says that the two black men on a street corner are selling drugs, patrol officers are obligated to interview them.
“All of these reasons are why we are in those neighborhoods contacting people,” Dyer said. “It isn’t random or for the purpose of discrimination. The people of this city count on us to keep them safe and work to stop retaliation among these gangs.”
He continued: “Most of our proactive resources are working to combat gangs in our city.”
Dyer expects the trend to continue, as Fresno shootings are already up 35 percent compared to this time last year.
“I would rather live with these numbers that appear to be a disproportional number of contacts and detentions because we have a disproportionate number of shootings,” he said.
We’re called into those neighborhoods by people who live there. They are prisoners in their own homes.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
‘Driving while black still a problem’
The Rev. B.T. Lewis II of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Fresno said hidden or implicit bias remains an issue in Fresno. Lewis noted the correlation between impoverished areas and more stops.
“Stops don’t necessarily mean that there’s a problem,” he said. “That could be somebody’s perception; somebody’s bias.”
Lewis said it’s interesting that the Police Department chooses to target a gang that represents only 8 percent of the population.
“The sense in our community is that driving while black is still a problem,” he said. “I still worry about my grown children getting home safely.”
Lewis said the training police receive about implicit bias helps, but officers need to be more prepared to work with people of different cultures.
“We must begin to change policies and change how we hold our department and chief accountable,” he said.