Protesters: Poorer communities of color are over-policed; research agrees, and offers alternatives

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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT, Brooklyn— It’s a grievance heard again and again at protests throughout the Tri-state region: that law enforcement over-polices lower income communities of color. The research not only bears that out, it also shows that policing is even more intense in lower income communities of color that are gentrifying.

Some of the experts who conducted the research say that communities could benefit by diversifying in at least one important way: by having more officers living in the neighborhoods where they serve.

Some of the most detailed research on the subject of how income and race affect policing are in studies by the Community Service Society of New York, or CSSNY, and by Justin Feldman, a PhD researcher at NYU Langone Health.

As president of CSSNY, David R. Jones oversaw its research. He’s also on the board of the MTA and told PIX11 News that when he joined the board a few years ago, he was told by transit police officials that “93 percent of the arrests were of black and brown people.”

That disproportionality helped spur Jones’s research. After looking closely at police records and other primary materials, the CSSNY created a map showing how heavily policed different neighborhoods are. It not only concluded that lower income communities of color are more heavily policed than middle class or higher income communities, it also showed that police were more likely to be asked to appear in lower income communities of color in which whites had moved in in recent years.

Matt Swagler is a white resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and a young father. What he said about his experience in the gentrifying neighborhood bears out the research.

“I wouldn’t call the cops for a minor infraction,” he told PIX11 News.

Swagler went on to say, “We had someone shot in front of my house.”

He said that various neighbors called 911, but it took an ambulance at least three minutes longer to arrive than it took police. And when officers arrived, he said, they tried to get the victim to provide them information without doing anything to “make sure he was OK.”

Swagler said that he was uncomfortable with those priorities.

Justin Feldman — the NYU researcher who specifically looks at income, race and policing — has done research that further shows that police are more likely to be called to lower income communities of color. Feldman said people from those communities are also far more likely to lose their lives in police incidents.

“Lower income… majority black communities have higher rates of police killing,” Feldman said in an interview.

He also said that changes proposed in recent days to shift funding, about $1 billion, away from police are a helpful start.

“We have public health programs that are effective at reducing gun violence,” Feldman said, adding that issues of protection from, and prevention of, violence “are public health issues.”

Jones, the president of CSSNY, said “the issue of residency” could also help. He said that having a greater number of police officers live in the communities they serve would increase public trust, as well as increase officers’ relationships with people in the communities.

Having a distance between officers and the communities where they spend their time on the job, said Jones, “is not a good idea.”

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