LIMA — The president of local chapter of the NAACP on Wednesday likened Lima to Ferguson, Missouri, a town deemed by federal officials earlier this decade to be rife with instances of racial profiling on the part of law enforcement.
Ron Fails, president of the Lima chapter of the NAACP, said during a press conference that Lima’s African-American community is being unfairly targeted by police in a similar fashion.
“We have a problem, and we are demanding that it stops now,” Fails said.
Fails said NAACP leaders have received an “increasing number of complaints of racial profiling” from members of Lima’s black community in recent years. “It’s been going on for several years and we’ve made several attempts to wrap our heads around it. But at best all we get are denials from law enforcement.”
Fails said the organization made open records requests recently to the three branches of the law enforcement community who work the streets of Lima — the Lima Police Department, Allen County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio State Highway Patrol — seeking a breakdown by ethnicity of the number of traffic citations issued by each department during calendar year 2018.
The numbers, Fails said, show that blacks are targeted by law enforcement at a much higher rate than are their white counterparts. Caucasian residents make up nearly two-thirds of Lima’s approximately 37,000 residents, while African-Americans make up 25 percent.
“Yet we (blacks) experience 52 percent of the traffic stops,” said Fails. “This is unacceptable and it must stop.”
Fails said the disparity is even more noticeable when statistics from all across Allen County are considered. Slightly more than 80,000 of the county’s 106,000 residents are white, while 12,600 are black. But numbers assembled by Fails indicated blacks were targeted in more than 47 percent of all traffic citations issued by the patrol, sheriff’s office and city police in 2018.
The trickle-down effect, the NAACP president said, is that “more than 50% of cases in Lima Municipal Court involve persons of color.”
“This community is already distressed, and the data shows we do have a problem,” Fails said. “Allen County/Lima, Ohio is one of the worst cities in America for blacks to live.” Comparing the city to Ferguson, Missouri, he noted, “We’re almost there.”
Figures furnished to the NAACP by the Lima post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol show that of 4,863 enforcement stops by troopers in 2018, black motorists represented 1,500 of those interactions while whites accounted for 3,200 stops.
Lt. Tim Grigsby, commander of the Lima post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, was not available Wednesday afternoon to comment on those figures. But Lt. Robert Sellers, public affairs commander for the patrol, said one of the agency’s priorities is protecting the constitutional and civil rights of all citizens.
“Biased based policing is explicitly prohibited by the patrol and we have strong polices and counter-measures in place to prevent this from occurring,” Sellers said in a statement. “Patrol commanders recently provided our enforcement statistics to NAACP President Fails and discussed our operations. Part of that meeting was an open invitation to further discussion anytime there are questions.”
Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia was also unavailable, but Public Information Officer Andre McConnahea said he is “comfortable saying that our officers don’t racially profile at all.”
McConnahea said statistics show that of every 100 vehicles stopped by deputies, just six of those drivers are African-American. The department spokesman said numbers amassed by the NAACP can be misleading, because figures listed reflect the total number of traffic violations and not the number of motorists involved.
“One person could be issued five violations,” said McConnahea.
McConnahea did concede that a “disproportionate number of minority drivers” stopped by deputies have been found driving with a suspended license, “which prevents us from simply giving them a warning.”
Information provided to the NAACP by the Lima Police Department shows African-Americans were issued 646 traffic citations in 2018 compared to 1,147 tickets issued to white residents.
Fails again pointed to the fact that blacks make up only 25 percent of Lima’s population while the number of citations issued to African-Americans was almost half the total number of tickets issued by LPD officers — a disparity he claimed as evidence of racial profiling.
“The LPD does not target anyone based on race,” Chief Kevin Martin said flatly. “We focus on areas where we have identified problems. We get complaints from neighborhoods on what they perceive as problems and we respond with the appropriate enforcement,” the chief said.
But Fails maintained that overly-aggressive police actions that target blacks in Lima and Allen County “is contributing to the demise of the minority community.”