It takes the state Attorney General’s office more than a year to add arrest statistics to its online database, but it’s probably fair to say that the story they tell about San Francisco police and black women has not changed much for the better since 2013.
Only 5.8% of the women in San Francisco are African American, but they are 45.5% of all the female arrests in the city, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. That continues a disparity that increased dramatically in the 1980s before leveling off around 2008.
Black arrests per 100,000 women is 13.4 times the rate of non-blacks, compared to a 4.1 in 1980. But, surprisingly, those numbers are not telling a tale of increased black female crime. Just the opposite is true.
Fewer African American women are being arrested these days and are, in fact, at 33-year lows. But the arrest rates for non-black women have dropped even more precipitously, thus accentuating the negative.
In 1980 and 2013, 7.1% of black women in San Francisco were arrested, peaking at 16.5% around 1996. Meanwhile, the number of non-black women arrested declined from 1.7% in 1980 to 0.5%, peaking at 2.6% around 1984.
Seventy-seven percent of the female felony arrests for weapons are black. They are 68% of the felony arrests for narcotics, 66% for prostitution and 57% for robbery. They are also terrible drivers, making up 51% of misdemeanor traffic arrests, or, perhaps, victims of driving while black. Black women are pulled over for traffic offenses 16.9 times as often as non-blacks.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi says the arrest disparity isn’t because black women commit more crimes. “Of the women arrested on narcotics charges in San Francisco, 68 percent are black,” he wrote in a San Francisco Examinerop-ed. “Yet we know drugs don’t discriminate, because whites comprise 60 percent of San Francisco’s fatal drug overdoses. In addition, study after study has shown similar rates of drug use and sales among all racial groups.”
Adachi takes issue with contentions, like that of S.F. Police Chief Greg Suhr, that socioeconomic factors and the behavior of the arrestees are the sole reasons for the disparity. “Poverty alone cannot reconcile the fact that black teenage girls in San Francisco have arrest rates 50 times higher than their counterparts in other counties,” he wrote.
The San Francisco arrest rate for black women is four times that of California overall, according to the report. For weapons, the disparity is almost 15 to 1. It’s 10 to 1 for narcotics and 5 to 1 for traffic offenses.
Adachi suspects the S.F. Police Department may have something to do with the high arrest rates and would like more public access to traffic detention and arrest records.