City council tables motion to ‘condemn’ report accusing New Bedford police of racial insensitivity

New Bedford city hall. Photo by Sawyer Pollitt // The Scallop

By Sawyer Pollitt
Boston University News Service

NEW BEDFORD — A motion put forward on by New Bedford city councilor-at-large Brian Gomes “in opposition and condemnation” of a report alleging that local police stop and frisk Black men at a higher rate than white residents was tabled this past week. 

According to the report, written by Citizens for Juvenile Justice [CFJJ], an organization that works to improve the state’s juvenile justice system, 46% of all “field incident reports” filed by the New Bedford Police Department involved Black men, despite them being only 7% of the city’s population. Field incident reports encompass different police interactions, including stop and frisk encounters and social media monitoring.

The motion, co-sponsored by Ward 6 councilor Joseph Lopes, Ward 1 councilor Brad Markey and councilor-at-large Naomi Carney, also called for the city council’s full support of the New Bedford Police Department as well as the condemnation of a Boston Globe article written about the report. 

In a radio interview with WBSM, Gomes called the report “garbage.” He further expanded on this during Thursday’s live-streamed city council meeting.

“I’m not saying that nothing may be going on — I don’t know that,” Gomes said. “But I know that I don’t like a banner put over this city that we have a racist police force out there that are only stopping minority kids, or whatever.”

According to Gomes, constituents at New Bedford crime watch meetings ask for “more police, more police” to address crime in their neighborhoods. Gomes went on to say that “if there is a problem with police officers doing something that is unethical of the sworn duty that they’ve taken, then they should be held accountable and they should not be on the force.”

Before further discussion, Ward 4 city councilor Derek Baptiste called to table the motion for a later date. Baptiste was joined by city councilors Ian Abreu, Naomi Carney, Hugh Dunn, Maria Giesta and Scott Lima and the motion to table passed 6 to 4. 

STAR-NB Standing Together Against Racism — New Bedford [STAR-NB], a grassroots, anti-racism organization, released a statement before the meeting, calling on the New Bedford City Council to denounce Gomes’ motion to condemn the report.

“Not only are we asking you to reject Councilors Gomes and Carney’s dismissal of the findings in the CFJJ report, but we are asking you to take it a step further and use this as an opportunity to carry out your own objective data analysis, “meet and greet” your constituents, and involve us in creating and implementing meaningful change,” the organization said in the statement.

Gomes was not the only person who took issue with the CFJJ report. The New Bedford Police Department and the New Bedford Mayor’s Office called CFJJ’s data analysis into question. 

In a statement, the police department said CFJJ was provided with 2,210 field incident reports not the 4,997 that they claim. According to the police, the higher number was “likely drawn from the number of individuals observed, many of whom were observed more than once, and do not represent unique individuals, which is also omitted in the report.”

The department also said that, among other issues, only five anonymous New Bedford youth were interviewed. The department also said that the report falsely claimed that there was no field interrogation policy within the department when there is. 

In a live-streamed interview with New Bedford Guide, Mayor Jon Mitchell echoed the police department’s statement regarding a misrepresentation of data.

“The big headline that they [CFJJ] promoted to The Boston Globe and these other media outlets was invalid,” Mitchell said. “So it’s a shame that certain media outlets accepted and published this piece as an article of faith.”

In a response, published through the New Bedford NAACP, CFJJ acknowledged that they received 2,210 field incident reports from the New Bedford Police Department, but that they did count individuals multiple times to reach a total of 4,997 individuals. 

However, CFJJ called the number “an important metric” as it represents the impact on those who have been “affected by interactions with police.”

“This is not a ‘misrepresentation,’ or a ‘miscalculation,’ but a different presentation of the same data set,” the organization said in its release.

In response to the New Bedford Police Department’s allegation that only five youths were interviewed, CFJJ said that while they spoke to five young people as a focus group, they verified their statements with youth-serving agencies and service providers in New Bedford. 

“While we elevated and centered the voice of young people, as is our mission to do, those conversations were not the sole feedback on the data contained in the report,” the CFJJ responded.

The organization also said that when they requested “stop and frisk policies, and field interrogation policies” from the New Bedford Police Department, they were not given “General Order 4-05,” which are guidelines for how New Bedford police should conduct field interrogations. 

The complete data set of field incident reports received by CFJJ was made public by the organization.

A version of this story appeared on The Scallop!

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