Despite a decline in the rate of misdemeanor arrests, those most likely to be arrested are young Black men, according to a study by the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Researchers at the collaborative have been gathering data on seven jurisdictions since 2016, when they launched their Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice.
The seven U.S. jurisdictions were Durham, NC. Los Angeles, Ca., Louisville, Ky., New York City, Prince George’s County, Md., Seattle, Wa. and St. Louis, Mo.
The collaborative has been gathering data for the past five years on long-term trends in low-level law enforcement across each jurisdiction, including specificities in arrests by race, sex, age and type of crime committed.
While all jurisdictions had a peak misdemeanor arrest rate from around 2008 to 2012, trends since then have reflected a general decrease in arrests.
Even with the decline in arrests, the results show that Black people, specifically young Black men, were arrested much more than white men in the same age range, ranging from “approximately three to seven arrests of Black people for one arrest of a white person.”
“Black people were arrested at the highest rates of any racial/ethnic group for all jurisdictions across the entire study period,” the report found.
While trends in the misdemeanor arrests of Black people saw the sharpest decline over time of all other ethnicities in the study, some jurisdictions maintained a relatively similar level of racial disparity in their arrests, and most saw at least a slight decrease.
Two jurisdictions didn’t have data on Latinx arrests, but those that did showed that their arrest rate was second highest, usually between that of Black and white people.
The study also found that misdemeanor arrests were most common among young ages, specifically the 18-20 and 21-24 age groups. As the study progressed, trends showed that arrests actually dropped the most among the two young age groups- even below that of the 25-34 year old group.
Two jurisdictions included data from an even younger group, ages 16 to 17. Those in the juvenile age group were at the top of misdemeanor arrest rates at the start of the study, but much like the other young age groups, dropped dramatically by the end.
As for gender, males had more misdemeanor arrests than females across all the jurisdictions.
Both sexes saw a decrease in arrest rates, with a 60 percent decline in female arrests and a 79 percent decrease in male arrests from the arrest peak to the end of the study.
The study also found that types of misdemeanor arrests generally showed a decline in drug-related misdemeanor arrests and an increase in person-related arrests like assault, harassment and stalking.
Drug-related arrests decreased in four of the six jurisdictions that provided information on type of arrest, and remained consistent in the other two jurisdictions. Person-related arrests either stayed the same or increased in every jurisdiction except for Prince George’s County.
The researchers noted that drug-related crimes are typically derived from controlled substances like marijuana, which require more police discretion unlike person-related arrests that usually imply direct harm on another individual.
While the study generally found that misdemeanors have decreased across all included jurisdictions’ peaks, New York data, which went back to 1980 showed a 91 percent increase in misdemeanor arrest rates from 1980 to 2017. The researchers noted that this might mean that although representing a current low, rates could still be far above historical lows.
Analyzing trends in misdemeanor arrests is crucial to understanding the relationship between community law enforcement and the public. Understanding changes and problems within low level law enforcement can help drive reform and eventually lead to a greater trust and understanding between police and the community.
“More expansive research will enable the public and policymakers to appropriately weigh perceived public safety benefits of misdemeanor arrests against the potential harms that criminal justice involvement inflicts on individuals and their communities,” said the study.
According to the authors, more research in misdemeanors is needed in order to “achieve the healthy and safe communities that we all want and deserve.”
The authors of the report are Becca Cadoff, M.P.A., Preeti Chauhan, PhD., and Erica Bond, J.D.
Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.