STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Black drivers received about 15 percent of all traffic tickets and warnings last year in Strongsville, and 9.9 percent in 2019, even though Black residents make up 2.5 percent of the city’s population.
Local political group Indivisible Strongsville presented the numbers to City Council July 19. The data came from the Strongsville Police Department’s 2020 and 2019 annual reports, which are posted on the city’s website.
“It appears to us that Black drivers are being unjustly ticketed by Strongsville police, at a rate six times that of white drivers in Strongsville,” Strongsville resident Russ Smith, reading from a letter signed “Independent Strongsville,” told council.
Police Chief Mark Fender didn’t dispute the statistics, but told cleveland.com that they weren’t being interpreted correctly. He said Strongsville’s population numbers have no relation to the demographic breakdown of who receives traffic tickets and warnings in town.
“With the number of individuals traveling to our regional (SouthPark Mall), retail shops, restaurants and business parks, we have no way to measure the size of this enormous increase (in traffic coming from out of town during the day), not to mention the race and gender of those driving through,” Fender said in an email to cleveland.com.
However, Beverly Masek — head of Indivisible Strongsville — said the percentage of Black drivers receiving tickets compared to the percentage of Black city residents is a “flashing red light” that warrants further study.
“If you cannot explain the disparity, you need more data,” Masek told cleveland.com. “It may not have anything to do with the number of residents, and it may be people driving in and out of town (who are receiving traffic tickets and warnings), but we don’t know.”
“We’re not saying anyone is racist, but we want to know why this is happening, seeing the statistics,” Masek said.
City Council members and Mayor Thomas Perciak didn’t return emails asking for comment.
Indivisible Strongsville is a local affiliate of Indivisible, which was established in 2016 to oppose Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and which now promotes progressive ideals and political candidates.
By the numbers
In its letter to council, Indivisible Strongsville noted the U.S. Census estimate of the 2019 population was 44,660, with Black residents making up 2.5 percent of the population.
According to statistics collected by the Strongsville Police Department, officers issued 6,017 traffic citations or warnings to white drivers in 2019. The numbers were 721 for Black drivers, 77 for Asians-Pacific Islander drivers, eight for American Indian or Alaskan native drivers and 432 for those of unknown race.
If Black drivers had received 2.5 percent of the tickets/warnings to match their percentage of the Strongsville population, they should have been expected to receive 181 tickets/warnings, not 721, Indivisible Strongsville said.
In 2020, officers issued 2,857 traffic citations or warnings to white drivers in 2019. The numbers were 572 for Black drivers, 16 for Asians-Pacific Islander drivers, three for American Indian and Alaskan native drivers and 229 for those of unknown race.
Black drivers should have been expected to receive 92 tickets/warnings, not 572, Indivisible Strongsville said.
Strongsville police have been keeping track of the demographic numbers because the department is part of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Relations, created by Gov. John Kasich in 2014. The idea was to establish statewide standards in policing, including those addressing the use of deadly force and employee recruitment and hiring.
Nearly 500 law enforcement agencies, including 51 in Cuyahoga County, have joined the collaborative, according to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services website.
“The Strongsville Police Department was among the first law enforcement agencies to seek accreditation in the collaborative,” Fender told cleveland.com. “We began the process in 2016 and formally announced our participation in 2017.”
The collaborative requires member police agencies to collect data, including the race and gender of drivers stopped for possible traffic violations.
Fender said Strongsville police have met several collaborative standards, including those for response to protests and demonstrations, response to vehicular pursuits, investigation of employee misconduct, bias-free policing, telecommunication training, body cameras, use of force, recruitment and hiring, community engagement and agency wellness.
Meetings & recommendations
Smith said he met with Charles Goss, Strongsville’s safety director, in March to discuss the statistics and request additional data. He said Goss sent a follow-up email to Indivisible Strongsville saying that police need directives from council to dig further.
In the June 2 email, Goss said the police department’s automated recordkeeping system doesn’t provide the kind of information Smith was seeking.
So, on July 19, Indivisible Strongsville in its letter recommended that council:
· direct Strongsville police to review its citation/warning and traffic-stop practices;
· ask police to analyze their citation/warning statistics and explain the outside number of citations/warnings given Black drivers. Data should include race, age and residence of drivers pulled over; the time and location of the violation; the type of violation; and the officer issuing the citation;
· require police to post their findings on the city website and present the information to council;
· provide police funding to hire outside consultants to conduct the analysis.
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