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Athens County Copwatch tracks racial bias in Athens policing

Some Athens residents concerned about racial bias in policing have banded together to create a website that tracks arrest data from police forces in Athens.

Ellie Hamrik and Damon Krane — recent candidates for city council and mayor, respectively — and Brendan Moran work with Athens County Copwatch, a group that provides accessible police data to the public.

The group uploads data they request from Athens county police forces to their website in order to give residents a snapshot into demographics of policing.

Athens County Copwatch sends out requests for data to local police organizations, including the Athens Police Department, the Athens County Sheriff Department, the Nelsonville Police Department, the Hocking College Police Department and the Ohio University Police Department, but have yet to have their requests fully fulfilled.

“We're still trying to get the arrest records for [OUPD],” Moran, who founded the project, said. “It's been about two months since we sent in that request.”

At one of the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Athens, Moran was handing out fact sheets about the local police, when he handed one to Hamrik. The organization emerged from there, and soon the members were looking through large quantities of local police records, policies and data.

“It's been a working process, just sending in requests and getting feedback from different departments,” Moran said. “What I wanted to do was get this information as much information as possible out to the public, and that's why we set up the website so that people can easily access this public information.”

The information the group has received is shown on their site, with Google spreadsheets of the raw data available, as well as some calculations the group has come up with. 

Moran said less than 10% of APD’s arrests are for violent offenses, and 48% are alcohol related. 

Athens police arrest Black and African American people at 1.46 times the rate of white people, Moran said.

Hamrik said that although they do have data from APD, the data has a bias built into it and does not necessarily give the full scope of the arrest records.

“First of all, we have anecdotal evidence of a couple different people of color who were arrested and their race was recorded by the police as white,” Hamrik said. “Secondly, ... they're required to record a race for everybody, but a huge percentage of them are ‘unknown.’ So that makes the question: who are those people?”

Moran said he also determined there is a 1.8 times higher chance of Athens Police using force against Black and African American people than white people.

“We already see that Blacks and African Americans are getting arrested disproportionately anyway,“ Moran said. “So I think that that statistic kind of hides the fact that there's inherent bias in the arresting data as well.”

Hamrik said she feels like city officials aren’t focusing as intently on the issues of racism as much as they should be.

“There's this narrative out there that Athens is this little hippie oasis,” Hamrik said. “That's not true. The trends that we see in policing nationally are also playing out here in Athens. And policing in Athens is racist and classist.”

Krane discerns that the research is important because he feels like city government is not properly reacting to the current situations at hand.

“I feel like that's why this research is so important because we are in a situation where city officials are making policy that's just based on fantasy ... it's not based on facts,” Krane said. “So it really is important for us to uncover and publish these facts.”

The organization hopes to put facts out in the open for activists to use as needed.

“I think that we, as an organization that is so far, mostly white folks, I think that we want to play a supportive role in basically giving ammo to activists into the movement and to other organizations,” Hamrick said. “Give them, as well as ourselves and our community, a large sort of tools to understand specifically the problems of policing in Athens and what can be done about it here.”


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