90% of Traffic Citations Issued by University Circle Police Since 2015 Went to Black People

Members of the Cleveland Clinic and University Circle Police Departments will assist in various patrol and security details at tomorrow's presidential debate in Cleveland.

In advance of the event, the national nonprofit news organization ProPublica has published a detailed report which puts these private police departments — and University Hospitals' — under the microscope. Reporter David Armstrong analyzed arrest and citation data, exposing an alarming picture of biased policing in the prosperous "medical zone" surrounding the Cleveland Clinic and into University Circle. Armstrong speculated that this might be among the most heavily policed areas in the country.

The University Circle Police Department with only 21 full-time officers — compared to the Clinic's 153 — was responsible for the most extreme imbalances in their citations, particularly for traffic violations. Of the 1,965 drivers cited by University Circle police since 2015, Armstrong reported, 1,723 (88%), have been Black.

"The most common traffic citation issued by University Circle police is for driving with a suspended or revoked license," ProPublica reported. "Only 26 of the 813 charged with that offense were white; 774, or 95%, were Black."

Responding to Armstrong, UCPD Chief James Repicky attributed the data to the demographics of surrounding communities. His officers don't specifically target Black people, he said. It's just that more Black people drive through University Circle's main corridors, en route to overwhelming Black adjacent neighborhoods or the 90+% Black East Cleveland.

But ProPublica analyzed traffic tickets based on the home ZIP codes of cites drivers and found that Repicky's demographic claims didn't explain the vast discrepancies.

For each of the 10 most-cited ZIP codes, the proportion of Black people among the population was lower than the percentage of Black drivers who were given traffic citations by University Circle police. The same was true for eight of the top 10 most-cited ZIP codes issued to drivers by Cleveland Clinic police.

Citations issued to drivers who live outside the Euclid Avenue area also underscore the inequities. For example, 94% of citations issued by University Circle police to residents of a ZIP code in suburban Garfield Heights went to Black drivers. Yet only 38% of people in that ZIP code are Black; 56% are white. Similarly, University Circle police issued citations to 32 drivers from one ZIP code in Euclid, a city northeast of the hospital area. All of those cited but one were Black drivers, even though the population in the Euclid ZIP code is 54% Black.
Scene sought comment from University Circle Inc. on ProPublica's reporting and received the following statement from Police Chief James Repicky:

"The University Circle Police Department is committed to unbiased policing in all encounters with the public. Racial profiling is not tolerated within our department. UCPD officers received ongoing racial equity and inclusion, conflict resolution, de-escalation and cultural awareness training to make sure that our community members are treated fairly and fully respected. We are committed to reviewing our policing policies and procedures to ensure that we are producing just outcomes for our community."

But the data shows that at least since 2015, the outcomes have been anything but just. That's one reason why a local police abolition group has emerged, calling for the dismantling of RTA's transit police, among others, to reduce the number of overlapping police jurisdictions and relax the atmosphere of "hyperpolicing" created as a result.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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