The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked conversations about police and race throughout the country.
Those discussions made their way to the Seguin community through peaceful protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and to the Seguin police chief. Demonstrators held various protests in the city following Floyd’s killing, including events held by the local Black Lives Matter movement and faith-based leaders of historically Black churches.
The continuing protests quickly birthed a relationship between a group of concerned community members and the Seguin Police Department. The small group, called the Community Coalition, got together to continue fostering a relationship with the police department, who was at protests helping to ensure all community members’ were treated fair, with dignity and respect, a memo to the Seguin City Council read.
Rev. A.J. Malone Jr., pastor at New St. James Baptist Church and Community Coalition member, said the group’s mission is simple.
“All we’re trying to achieve are the last six words of the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. “And that is ‘with liberty and justice for all.’”
Since the coalition’s inception, the group has met with members of the police department several times and witnessed Nichols conduct various presentations.
“Chief Terry Nichols has been awesome,” Malone said. “One of the things that I brought to the table was many times when something like this has happened, we are trying to get the attention of the city leaders. This was different. The city leaders were actually readily available and willing to sit down and talk.”
Malone said the coalition ultimately would like to see more diversity in the police department and sheriff’s office as a result of their dialogue.
“I would really like the community of Seguin and even Guadalupe County to understand that this is not us against the police,” he said. “This is really about the generation that is coming on like my children and my grandchildren and trying to have a community there where everybody is respected.”
In discussions with the Community Coalition, Nichols brought information about the city’s arrests and use of force in relation to race for the past five years. He presented the same information to the Council on Tuesday.
“What we started with this was trying to have a conversation,” Nichols said. “People have focused on what’s going on nationally, and they see all the chaos going on, and we want to say ‘okay, what’s going on in Seguin?’ It’s easy to extrapolate what’s going on in Minnesota or Los Angeles and say ‘that’s going on here in Seguin.’ So that’s why we wanted to look at our data. What does our local data tell us?”
An introduction to the data
Nichols touched on six topics during his discussion of data collected from 2015 to 2019 for each category, comparing percentages of affected racial groups.
“Asians are represented and other demographics are represented, but to keep this conversation simple for our purposes, I’m going to keep it [to] our Blacks, our whites, our Hispanics,” he said. “I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone by referring to them by a certain thing; I’m just trying to keep it simple.”
According to Nichols’s information, 53% of Seguin’s population is Hispanic, 40% is white, and 7% is Black.
The Seguin Police Department’s sworn officers’ racial diversity closely mirrors that of the city’s with 54% being Hispanic, 41% white and 5% Black.
The numbers of Black, white and Hispanic civilian staff at the police department also resembles the other trends.
“So does our department represent the community that we serve?’” Nichols asked. “You can see that we’re very close.”
In 2015, the Seguin Police Department conducted 1,943 arrests. Of people arrested, 1,251 were Hispanic, 436 were white, and 256 were Black.
The following year saw the highest amount of arrests overall within the five years with 2,223 arrests total — 1,433 Hispanic, 521 white and 269 Black.
Between 2017 and 2019, the total number of arrests saw a steady decline in the area; however, the racial divide of arrests maintained an ongoing trend with previous years, with 64% of the arrests in 2019 being of Hispanic people, 23% white people and 13% Black people.
“The percentages are staying absolutely consistent over four years in a row… it’s just mind-boggling,” Nichols said. “So we started asking ourselves some hard questions. ‘Why are Blacks and Hispanics arrested at a higher rate than they’re represented in the population and whites arrested lower?’”
Nichols and his team also questioned if the police department specifically targeted Hispanic and Black community members.
“We’ll sometimes, yes,” Nichols said. “In 2016, we targeted the Mexican Mafia gang. That’s obviously primarily Hispanics, but it’s only about 20 of the arrests that year. There’s another year where we targeted the Mexican Mafia gang again, and we also targeted a Crips gang, which was predominant Black. So, yeah, the numbers came up there but not enough significantly over a five year period of time.”
Nichols also considered three possibilities as to why Black and Hispanic community members are more frequently arrested.
“Does a certain demographic commit more crime in this community?” Nichols asked. “Are they caught more frequently? Are there more repeat offenders?”
The questions led Nichols and the department to collect data on who their suspects are, he said.
The data in the presentation shows a similar percentage trend to that of the arrest numbers.
“I’m not saying suspect when you call, and someone broke into your car, and you saw them running away, and all you saw was a white female running away, and you call us to say ‘a white female just broke into my car,’” Nichols said. “That doesn’t count for suspect for us. If we have a name and a date of birth, we count that as a suspect.”
In 2015, the Seguin Police Department recorded 3,235 people in the area as “suspect or arrested.” Of those, 2,063 were Hispanic, 703 were white, and 469 were black.
Between 2016 and 2019, the number of people listed as a suspect or arrested rose in 2016, followed by a steady decline throughout 2019.
In 2019, 69% of people listed as suspect or arrested were Hispanic, about 20% were white, and about 11% were black.
“[The numbers] are absolutely consistent across the board,” Nichols said.
Field-generated vs. community-generated
Department personnel looked at arrests in two different categories — field-generated arrests and community-generated calls for service. They used the numbers to gauge whether police target specific racial demographics or if community members call upon officers more often, Nichols said.
Field-generated arrests are officer initiated — a traffic stop, noticing suspicious activity. In contrast, community-generated arrests come from residents or businesses that call the department when a crime has occurred, Nichols explained.
Between 2015 and 2018, police generated 45% of arrests and 55% were community-generated, Nichols said.
“Field-generated — under half the time it’s stuff that we’re doing, our officers are initiating,” Nichols said. “More than half the time, the community is calling us for a problem. [If] the community calls us for a problem, we deal with whatever hand we’re dealt — white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, male, female — we deal with whatever we’re dealt with, more than half the time.”
In 2015, the department reported 1,943 total arrests. In field-generated arrests that year, 570 were Hispanic people, 197 were white people and 113 were black people, Nichols said.
“For Hispanics, 46% of the time were field-generated, meaning we started that — there was a traffic stop, suspicious person, there’s something we initiated,” Nichols said. “For the whites, it was 45%, and for the blacks, it was 44%. So under half the time, this was something that we initiated. If we were picking on people, I would expect to see these numbers in the 60 to 70 to 80% that we are stopping these people and arresting them.”
According to the data, the field-generated arrest numbers closely mirror those of 2015 throughout 2018.
“If this department is anything, we’re consistent,” Nichols said. “The numbers stayed right at about 50% or lower across five years.”
Nichols said the department changed management systems in 2019 and the way the data for field-generated arrests is coded is not the same as it was during the previous four years. Due to the changes, the chief said he did not feel comfortable sharing the data for 2019’s field-generated arrests. The current undisclosed data for 2019’s field-generated arrests would be close to accurate, but he believes it would not be 100% correct, Nichols said.
Unlike previous trends presented by the data, the majority of people pulled over during traffic stops are white, Nichols said.
In 2015, the Seguin Police Department conducted about 9,900 traffic stops. Those stopped included 60% white, 32% Hispanic and 8% Black, Nichols said.
A trend of predominantly white traffic stops continued into 2019, when out of 11,206 traffic stops, 47% were white, 45% were Hispanic and 8% Black.
“Why are whites stopped at higher rates representing the population than Hispanics?” Nichols asked. “Hispanics are lower, and Blacks are about equal. So are we targeting whites? Are they our driving population? What about the transient population coming through town?”
The department uses the census to gather its data; however, Nichols said he questioned the resource.
“The census is probably not the best way to gauge this because that may not be the true driving population,” he said. “So as we move forward and looking at our traffic stop data in a few years, we’re going to try to find other benchmarks to finally figure out exactly who is our driving population.”
Use of Force
Police arrested 8,043 people between 2015 and 2019. During the span, officers used force 143 times, Nichols said. On average, of the almost 8,000 arrests in five years, 1.5% of the arrestees when police used force were Hispanic, 2.8% were white and 2% were Black.
In helping to put the use of force numbers into perspective, Nichols explained that his officers have conducted more than 57,000 stops in the past five years, and compared to the number of times the department has used force in that timeframe, the percentage drops significantly.
“If you did the math there, it would be 0.24% of the time we used force,” he said. “That’s just traffic stops.Think of all the calls we get called to — Walmart, HEB, and people’s homes for disturbances — all the other contacts we have with people every day that we do not use force. That number could be 80,000 to 90,000 to 100,000 contacts we have with people in this community every year over five years.”
In the past five years, the Seguin Police Department has received almost 50 complaints from within the department and the community, Nichols said. Of those 49 complaints, police department supervisors or other officers generated 67%.
In 2015, there were five internal complaints and four external. In 2016, there were six internal complaints and four external. The middle year of the bunch, 2017, had a spike in complaints with 14 internal complaints and one external. The following year, there were seven internal complaints and one external. And 2019 saw one internal complaint with zero external.
Nichols emphasized the feedback the Community Coalition provided his department regarding community engagement.
Although the police department oversees many engagement opportunities, from the Halloween Safehouse to the annual Blue Santa Christmas event, Nichols said his department could do more.
“The community coalition group was right,” Nichols said. “We do need to engage with youth, not just the [very young] but the teenagers are really critical…because what we’re seeing across the country, we don’t want to happen here. And if we can engage them and we respect them, and they respect us, and they are not fearful of us, then I think it’s a win-win.”
Seguin Police Department’s enforcement, the numbers appear to show, is pretty evenhanded, and the group was pleased to see the outcome of the chief’s analysis, Malone said.
Nichols’ presentation is a great show of faith by the police department and city of their efforts to continue working to make Seguin a great place for everyone, Malone said.
“We were very pleased with the numbers,” he said. “Not only that but we have been really pleased with the chief and the city manager, Steve [Parker], and the mayor for their interest in trying to get ahead of what has been happening in the United States.”
Malone said he and other members of the coalition hope to see more presentations like Tuesday’s from the police department.
“Transparency is one of the things that we really want to put forth,” Malone said. “When there’s transparency, you don’t have the riots. You don’t have people asking ‘what’s going on right now?’ And that’s what we really tried to get ahead of.”