Members of Brookhaven’s Social Justice, Race and Equity Commission called for more precise reporting on race and ethnicity in police data at an April 7 subcommittee meeting. 

The city established the commission in September of 2020 to address race and diversity issues in Brookhaven. The commission is charged with recommending improvements to the city’s vision and mission statement, city hiring and retention practices, procurement and contracting, and policing.

The Policing and Continuum Use of Force subcommittee had its first meeting on April 7. Lt. David Snively, a public information officer from the Brookhaven Police Department, presented 2020 police data to commissioners and explained the differences in how the department categorizes offenders by race and ethnicity. According to Snively, the BPD follows a standard set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), treating race and ethnicity as separate. 

Although local departments have always had the option to keep track of ethnicity, Snively said it is not required by the state. After last year’s protests surrounding police brutality, the Brookhaven Police Department created a “Transparency Project” campaign that reported arrest and use-of-force statistics by race. But a Reporter investigation revealed the arrest statistics gave an unclear picture because prior to 2020, BPD did not include an ethnicity category. Instead, they reported Hispanic arrestees as white, a choice the department made even though Brookhaven has a large Hispanic population.

Now, the department is required to ask an arrestee if they identify as Hispanic or not. According to Snively’s presentation, the only two options for ethnicity are Hispanic or Non-Hispanic. Race is separated into white, Black or African American, American Indian, Asian, or Pacific Islander. There is no Hispanic or Latino category for race. 

According to BPD data breaking down arrests by ethnicity in 2020, 63% of those arrested did not identify as Hispanic while 37% did. Broken down by race, 57% of arrestees were white, 42% were Black, and 1% were Asian. 

Snively also shared data showing use of force broken down by the ethnicity and race of the alleged offender. When broken down by ethnicity, 76% of people whom the police used force against were non-Hispanic, 23% were Hispanic and 1% were of unknown race and ethnicity. When broken down by race, 44% were white, 54% were Black, 1% were Asian and 1% were of unknown race and ethnicity.

Despite the addition of the ethnicity category, commissioners thought the separation of ethnicity and race still left room for confusion, considering Hispanic individuals could be included in the “white” category in racial statistics. They discussed the need for more accurate reporting and how that could be incorporated into their recommendations. 

“We’re overstating the white number,” Chairman John Funny said. “From our perspective, when you dilute that white number, it’s going to be a lower number. And when you look at the African American number, it’s a high number. So we need to wrestle with that somewhere.” 

Commissioner Conni Todd expressed concern about how data is collected. Officers are required to ask someone who has been arrested if they identify as Hispanic, but Todd said she wondered if someone might feel the need to lie out of distrust.

“It may not be in their benefit, because they assume that if [the police] knew they were Hispanic, that may not be a good place for them to be,” she said. 

The commission did not come up with concrete recommendations at this meeting, but subcommittee Co-Chair Shahrukh Arif wondered if it would be possible to receive a breakdown cross-referencing how people responded to the ethnicity question with how they responded to the race question. 

“If we’re innovating and leading the pack, people are going to be following us,” Arif said. “So if we can think of better ways to get even self-reported data or more accurate reported data, that would be interesting.” 

All SJREC meetings can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.