Forest Park pot arrests since 2015 more than 80 percent black

The Forest Park City Council has debated whether police disproportionately arrest black pot-smokers. (Staff Photo: Robin Kemp)

FOREST PARK — Forest Park Police Department arrest records obtained by the Clayton News show the overwhelming majority of arrests for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana since 2015 have been African-Americans.

A preliminary analysis of the 698 arrests since 2015 for possession of less than an ounce of pot in Forest Park shows that 579 — more than 80 percent — of the arrests involved black suspects.

The numbers do not prove how many people of any race smoke marijuana in Forest Park. They may or may not indicate racial profiling on marijuana arrests, and may or may not have been the only charges for which the suspects were arrested.

As of the 2010 Census, 37.7 percent of the city’ residents were black, 19 percent white, 34.3 percent Hispanics (of any race) and 7.9 percent Asian.

It should be noted that people listed as white, Asian, and other races also were arrested for this charge.

Arrest data provided by Forest Park Police Department in response to an Open Records request includes incident number, sex, race, age, arresting agency, arrest date, charge and name.

Here is a breakdown by year of the number and percentage of black people arrested. In a few cases, race was not specified or was unclear.

  • In 2015, at least 111 of the 136 suspects arrested, or 81.6 percent, were black men and women. 23, or 16.9 percent, were white. One was of unknown race.
  • In 2016, at least 142 of the 177 suspects arrested, or 80.2 percent, were black men and women. 33, or 18.6 percent, were white. Three were of unknown race.
  • In 2017, at least 148 of the 171 suspects arrested, or 86.5 percent, were black men and women. 20, or 11.6 percent, were white. Three were Asian. One was of unknown race.
  • In 2018, as of Wednesday, Sept. 26, at least 118 of the 143 arrests, or 82.5 percent, were of black men and women. 26, or 18.1 percent, were white. One was Asian.
  • Since the City Council passed a July 2 ordinance decriminalizing marijuana possession less than 1 ounce in Forest Park, at least 60 of the 71 arrests, or 84.5 percent, have been of black men and women. Ten, or 14 percent, were white. One was Asian.

When asked for comment, Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells, who has long contended that the Forest Park Police Department disproportionately targets African-Americans, said, “Wow. I’m glad you got the evidence because it basically proves what I’ve been saying all along, that blacks are being profiled.”

Akins-Wells added, “That’s not a basis for any decision, but it’s happening and people need to know it is happening. Wow, wow, wow. That’s crazy.”

Councilman Dabouze Antoine also has alleged racial profiling on the marijuana issue.

When asked to comment, Councilwoman Sandra Bagley, who has said she did not believe the Police Department engaged in racial profiling, said, “Without seeing the actual information, I do not have anything to base findings on. What were other charges? Also what was total breakdown? Other ethnicities?”

The News noted those factors may affect interpretation, but sought comment only on the raw arrest numbers on this single charge.

Bagley replied, “I don’t have complete information so my comment is I do not have complete information to ascertain all facts.”

The News asked Major Chris Matson whether the department could comment on factors like arrests on multiple charges and whether those arrested were Forest Park residents. After reviewing the figures, Matson pointed out that “these are raw figures that are difficult to break down, because Hispanic is not a race, it is an ethnicity. Therefore, numbers can be skewed.” The data police provided did not indicate how many of the arrests were of people of Hispanic ethnicity, only by race.

Citing July 1, 2017 Census figures for Clayton County as a whole, Matson pointed out, “We do not only arrest people who live in Forest Park, so it is more appropriate to use a larger area for determining demographics of the area.” According to those figures, Matson said, Clayton County “is 71.5 percent black and 20.1 percent white (the rest is a mixture of multi race, and other ethnicities).”

As noted by the News, Matson points out that some of these arrests included other charges, as well. “It would take a great deal of research to review each of the case, however, I was able to glance at the cases this year and found other charges were made. Just to give you an idea, these other charges included: various traffic cases, aggravated assault, weapons offenses, stolen property, other felony drug charges, disorderly conduct, fugitive from justice, DUI, and acts of Family Violence. These are important to mention because often times marijuana is not found until after someone is arrested and a search is conducted.”

Matson also wanted readers to know that Forest Park Police officers must “have annual training on Bias Based Profiling, and conduct numerous in car camera reviews monthly of uniform patrol officers. I cannot recall ever finding an officer in our department who was found to be racially profiling people. We have a few complaints a year where people allege that they were racially profiled. All complaints are reviewed by no less than 5 command level officers, including Internal Affairs.”

The Georgia Department of Public Safety defines “bias based profiling” as “any law enforcement initiated action that relies solely on a trait common to a group rather than the behavior of a particular individual. Bias based profiling does not include circumstances where the officer has information that includes a racial, ethnic, gender or other group descriptor concerning a suspect for a specific crime.”

Sworn officers may not unlawfully discriminate against a person’s “race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or any other identifiable group characteristic. No sworn members shall endorse or act solely upon stereotypes, attitudes or beliefs that a person’s group characteristics increases the probability that the person will or may act unlawfully.”

Should a citizen file a bias complaint, the Department of Public Safety is required to contact that person to report the complaint’s outcome. In addition, the Office of Professional Standards compiles “a statistical summary of all bias based profiling complaints, including whether they were sustained, not sustained or exonerated. The report shall be forwarded to the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety to determine whether there is a need for changes in policy, training or tactics.”

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