African Americans made up more than half of arrests in Charlottesville over the past five years for mostly petty crimes typically associated with drugs, recidivism and socioeconomic status.
Between March 30, 2014, and March 28, 2019, African Americans were nearly five times more likely to be arrested than any other race in the city based on Charlottesville’s estimated 19 percent black population.
The Charlottesville Police Department recently released arrest data back to 2014.
African Americans made up 54.3 percent of all arrests in that timeframe and were slapped with more than half of all charges for probation violations, drug charges and driving without a license.
Black people made up nearly 63 percent of drug-related arrests, including 60 percent of charges to distribute marijuana and 51 percent of charges of possessing marijuana, most of which were a first offense.
Black people also accounted for 54 percent of pocket picking charges and 65 percent of arrests for disturbing the peace.
African Americans also were charged with driving without a license or a revoked license much more frequently than other groups, accounting for about 65 percent of those arrests.
That likely will change because the General Assembly voted this year to end the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines and fees.
“It does affect more people who are black and brown, particularly low income, because they don’t have the money to pay those fees,” said Harold Folley, a community organizer for the Legal Aid Justice Center.
Carl Brown, client relations manager for The Fountain Fund, which helps people after they are released from incarceration, said the General Assembly’s actions were “huge.”
Brown said if someone can’t afford to pay fines from their first run-in with police, then problems will start to build.
“They’re never ever even able to get out of the first situation they’re in and it’s compounded,” he said.
A Charlottesville Police Department spokeswoman said Police Chief RaShall Brackney was unable to provide a comment for this story by press time.
“We are going to need some time to examine this data as we are preparing for a very busy weekend, so we have no comment at this time,” a department spokesman said ahead of the Charlottesville Marathon and local festivities related to the University of Virginia men’s basketball team’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament Final Four in Minneapolis.
Folley said the Charlottesville Police Department has to answer whether its policies lead to higher arrest rates for African Americans.
“I’ve lived in Charlottesville all my life and this is something that a lot of residents deal with every day,” he said. “I think it’s totally up to the chief to also think about ways to combat this outstanding number of African Americans being arrested.”
African Americans made up about 63 percent of arrests for probation violations, of which about 70 percent were felony charges.
Neal Goodloe, a planner with the Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board, presented recidivism and substance-abuse data to the City Council in November.
In 2016, 337 people were released from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail after serving more than 30 days.
Of those bookings, 78 percent were for non-violent offenses, mostly related to drugs, property crimes or probation violations.
About 70 percent previously had been on probation and 72 percent of those people previously had had their probation revoked. About 35 percent were on probation when they were arrested.
Recidivism rates, which focus on the likelihood that someone will commit another crime after being released from incarceration, increase the longer someone has been out of custody, Goodloe said.
Of inmates held in 2014-15 for more than 30 days, only 39 percent were at risk to reoffend over the next two years. However, 78 percent were likely to have another stay in the jail of more than 30 days in the five years after release.
Brown said a major factor in reoffending is socioeconomic status.
Of those people who entered the jail in 2016, Goodloe told the City Council that 76 percent “experienced financial difficulties” before their arrest, which seem to affect the city’s African American residents more than others, according to U.S. Census data.
Charlottesville’s median income is about $55,000, but for black residents the median income is $26,600. For white people, it is about $60,000.
About 4.5 percent of black people in Charlottesville are unemployed, higher than any other racial group, according to the Census.
Brown said recidivism isn’t a black or white issue, but an economic problem.
“The color is green. If you don’t have the green, you can fall in it,” he said. “I tell people all the time, crime does not pay, but you will pay.”
Some people may have been charged for more than one crime, making it difficult to nail down the total number of people arrested through the CPD data. However, each charge includes the race of the suspect, enabling the data to be compiled along those lines.
The arrest data on white people also could be skewed because it includes Hispanic people.
The Uniform Crime Reporting system used by the U.S. Department of Justice, and most police departments, classifies Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race. The Census also lists Hispanic as an ethnicity because “people of Hispanic origin may be of any race.”
However, according to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Hispanic people said their Hispanic background is part of their racial identity.
The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says that “without comprehensive data, policymakers, community members and advocates cannot know how mass incarceration affects Latinos specifically and ethnic disparities cannot be accurately tracked.”
The disparity in arrests isn’t new, but it’s unclear how closely it’s tied to another issue criminal justice advocates raise — disproportionate stop-and-frisk encounters.
Since September, when the city started reporting data on the practice, 403 people have been stopped by police. Of those, 214 were black and 185 were white.
Forty-four percent, or 82, of the white people stopped were arrested and 36 percent, or 78, of the black people stopped were arrested.
Since September, 239 people were released without charges — 136 of whom were black and 103 of whom were white.
Folley said the Charlottesville Police Department doesn’t report how many people are stopped and then let go in all encounters with officers, but “I’m sure that number is a lot higher.”
The trends aren’t tied to any administration, as African Americans have made up roughly the same percentage of arrests during the tenure of Police Chiefs Timothy J. Longo, Al Thomas and now Brackney.
“We’ve been through many police chiefs and the same thing keeps happening,” Folley said, “so maybe it’s a culture thing.”