Jack McDevitt Featured in NBC Boston: Massachusetts Police Data Points to Racial Disparities in Arrests
by Melissa Ellin, Kate McGowan and Bzu Shiferaw, NBC 10 Boston
Lawmakers here have passed a series of measures since 2018 to address inequities in the criminal justice system, including a new law to enhance transparency and accountability for local police.
Among them is a new mandate for the state to gather information on all arrests, providing researchers and citizens alike an accounting of who police take into custody.
While that effort is still under development, an early collection of data published last fall provides some insight into a key metric: the racial composition of arrests.
That data, submitted by local police across the state, suggests in some communities, people who are Black or African American were arrested at disproportionately high rates, relative to their overall share of the population, according to a new analysis by NBC10 and students from Boston University’s Justice Media Computational Journalism co-lab.
Experts caution comparing arrests with the city’s residential population is an imperfect calculation. The racial makeup of any community fluctuates day to day, based on employment and other factors. And importantly, the state data does not show where the people who were arrested reside.
Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute for Race and Justice at Northeastern University, said comparing census data to general arrests is not always indicative of bias. He said comparing resident arrests to the residential population produces clearer numbers. The state arrest database does not publicly disclose the neighborhood in which arrested individuals live.
“When we look at the community residential population and the people arrested, it fails to account for the fact that people go to other communities,” McDevitt said. “They go to other communities to commit crime. They go to other communities to shop and to work.”