Many police departments across Rhode Island disproportionately arrest black individuals at rates that eclipse the racial disparity of arrests found in Ferguson, Missouri, newly reported data shows.

The ACLU of Rhode Island today said that data reported by USA Today demonstrates an extreme racial disparity in arrest rates in many communities across Rhode Island. Using 2011-2012 arrest record data reported to the FBI by police departments nationwide, the USA Today study found that every one of the 13 reviewed Rhode Island police departments disproportionately arrested black individuals at rates even larger than in Ferguson, Missouri, where racial tensions and mistrust of the police have recently come to a head.

In 2012, Ferguson police arrested black individuals at a rate 2.8 times higher than non-blacks based on the city’s resident population (186.1 black arrests per 1,000 residents compared to 66 non-black arrests per 1,000 residents). By contrast, the Rhode Island police departments that were analyzed arrested black individuals at rates up to 9.14 times higher than the rate for non-blacks, and all were greater than Ferguson’s 2.8 disparity rate. These disproportionate rates were present in communities of various size and demographics. 

The arrest rates of the following Rhode Island police departments were reviewed by the report (all data is per 1,000 residents):

  • South Kingstown: 9.1 times higher - 331.8 black arrests to 36.3 non-black arrests.
  • Johnston: 6.7 times higher - 274.2 black arrests to 41.2 non-black arrests.
  • Warwick: 6.0 times higher - 325.9 black arrests to 54.6 non-black arrests.
  • East Providence: 5.7 times higher - 237.4 black arrests to 41.8 non-black arrests.
  • Newport: 5.1 times higher - 394.2 black arrests to 77.6 non-black arrests.
  • Middletown: 4.7 times higher - 359.9 black arrests to 76.8 non-black arrests.
  • Cranston: 4.6 times higher - 182.4 black arrests to 39.9 non-black arrests.
  • North Providence: 4.2 times higher - 237.8 black arrests to 56.8 non-black arrests.
  • Providence: 3.7 times higher - 99.3 black arrests to 26.7 non-black arrests.
  • Pawtucket: 3.6 times higher - 207.4 black arrests to 58.5 non-black arrests.
  • Woonsocket: 3.4 higher - 321.6 black arrests to 93.7 non-black arrests.
  • West Warwick: 3.4 times higher - 307.1 black arrests to 89.6 non-black arrests.
  • Central Falls: 3.4 times higher - 293.5 black arrests to 86.8 non-black arrests.

Hillary Davis, policy associate of the ACLU of Rhode Island, noted: “The racial disparities revealed by this analysis are staggering, and must be investigated. If the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have taught us anything, it is how easily long-standing disparities can boil over into conflict. Rhode Island can no longer pretend that we are insulated from these issues. It is incumbent upon all police departments to understand and address these racial disparities now, before Rhode Island is the subject of nationwide discussion.”

In a similar vein, a 2013 report issued by the ACLU found that blacks in Rhode Island were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.6 times the rate of whites in 2010, and were seven times more likely to be arrested for this offense in the counties with the smallest minority populations. These major disparities existed even though national studies show that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly similar rates.