WNC CONFIDENTIAL: Tracking WNC’s gangs, racial disparities in school discipline, state eugenics task force plans

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Welcome to WNC CONFIDENTIAL, a Carolina Public Press feature about official secrets and public disclosures — all from, about or relating to the mountain region. Every other Thursday, we’ll give you the key to recent revelations and put hard-to-find records at your fingertips.

 

Law enforcement data track few mountain-area gangs

Some key federal data on criminal gangs recently went missing, but other information collected by local law enforcement is available and suggests that Western North Carolina has some of the lowest rates of gang activity in the state.

Gangs are on the rise and delving into new crimes virtually throughout the country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in late October. The announcement accompanied the release of the FBI’s “2011 National Gang Threat Assessment,” an extensive biennial report produced by the bureau’s National Gang Intelligence Center.

But now the report is officially unavailable: The FBI recently removed it from the bureau’s website. “This document has been removed temporarily,” a notice on the site says. “Please check back at a later time.”

No explanation was offered, but it’s possible that the FBI removed the report to fix its problems. A recent news report revealed that the assessment vastly over-estimated the number of gang members in Salt Lake City, Utah, which could throw other parts of the report into dispute.

Among the illustrations in the report were regional maps showing the estimated number of gangs in every county in the United States. The map for the southeast region — one of two regions in the country where gang activity is rising fastest, according to the FBI — showed North Carolina’s county-specific data.

Carolina Public Press obtained a cached, partial version of the withdrawn report, the “2011 National Gang Threat Assessment” [PDF]. The text of the report is included in this version, but the illustrations, including the county-by-county breakdowns, are no longer viewable.

This map, from a March report by the Governor's Crime Commission, offers rough estimates of each county's number of gangs, as cataloged in the statewide GangNET database. Click to view full-size image.

Until and after the FBI’s full assessment returns to the public domain, some other recent law-enforcement information on gangs in Western North Carolina is available, in a report issued earlier this year. The report, “Gangs in North Carolina: An Analysis of GangNET Data,” [PDF] was released by the Governor’s Crime Commission in March.

GangNET is a gang-intelligence database used by local law enforcement agencies to track gang members and their associations. “This software was originally developed for the military to track potential terrorists and has since been adapted by many states and federal law enforcement agencies,” the report says.

In North Carolina, GangNET was first used in 2003, in Durham County. Since then, its use has spread around the state. However, as the report notes, not all local law agencies have participated.

“N.C. GangNET is not a perfect system for developing statewide gang data, but it far exceeds any other methodology because it relies on data entered by the most active gang investigators in the state,” the report says.

According to the GangNET data, Western North Carolina has some of the lowest concentrations of gang activity in the state. In the 17 westernmost counties, only three are listed in the database as having organized gangs. Those are Buncombe (with one gang in the system), Cherokee (with five) and Henderson (with eight).

The report doesn’t offer the names of the gangs or the number of members in each county. It says that, statewide, there are roughly 15,000 members in the database.

 

Researcher finds patterns of discrimination in student discipline in N.C. public schools

When a noted education researcher’s latest report sparked headlines, it drew national attention to some glaring discrepancies in how different groups of children are disciplined in North Carolina’s public schools. The same report had some praise for how openly and thoroughly the state makes information about the matter public.

The report, “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” was authored by Daniel J. Losen of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and released in October. The full report, as well as a summary and supplementary materials, can be found here.

Losen found that “large disparities by race, gender and disability status are evident” in U.S. public schools’ use of suspensions and expulsions, and urged a series of reforms to bring equality to how school discipline is meted out.

While Losen crunched numbers from around the United States, he focused on several states in particular, among them North Carolina, where he found comparatively high rates of disciplinary action overall, and patterns of discrimination in those punishments.

This chart, from a detailed N.C. State Board of Education report, shows the disparities in short-term suspension rates for children of different ethnicities, as reported by public schools. The data on long-term suspension rates shows similar disparities. Click to view full-size image.

For example, “Black first-time offenders in the state of North Carolina were far more likely than white first-time offenders to be suspended for minor offenses, including cell-phone use, disruptive behavior, disrespect and public displays of affection,” the study says.

At the same time, Losen cited North Carolina as one of a handful of states that is transparent enough on this front to make researching discipline discrimination possible. Some of the information in his analysis of North Carolina was obtained through public records requests, but other parts were already readily available.

“Some states provide no district- or school-level racial data on school discipline in reports accessible to the public, even though they may collect such data,” the study says. “In contrast, North Carolina provides an annual and highly comprehensive report to the public, with data disaggregated by race at both school and district levels.”

That report, which is prepared and posted online by the State Board of Education, consolidates data on school crime and violence, suspensions and expulsions, and dropouts.

The latest report [PDF] covers the 2009-2010 school year. It showed that black students were given short- and long-term suspensions at four times the rate of white students, and that American Indian students were suspended at similarly high rates.

The report is a goldmine of data on how such factors play out across the state, and takes special note of how some WNC school systems stack up in regard to key measurements. To cite a few examples:

• State law requires that certain serious offenses must be reported to school administrators. These “reportable acts” include such crimes as assault, arson, sexual harassment, rape and possession of a firearm. Polk County was one of only four counties in the state that had no reportable acts in its high schools, and Mitchell County’s high schools likewise had one of the lowest rates of reportable acts in the state.

• Two WNC school systems — Asheville City and Haywood County — made the state’s top-10 list for highest rates of reportable acts in high schools.

• Two WNC school systems — Mitchell County and Polk County — were among the 10 systems statewide with the lowest rate of high school suspensions.

 

State eugenics task force nears final recommendations

North Carolina is on the verge of potential steps to redress decades of state-sanctioned sterilizations of some of its most vulnerable citizens.

A task force appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue to find justice for the victims is slated to issue its final recommendations on Feb. 1, 2012. The task force recently held one of its final scheduled meetings before that deadline and firmed up its plans.

For more than four decades, beginning in the early 1930s, a state-run eugenics program authorized the sterilizations of some 7,600 people. The vast majority were women, and the program targeted racial minorities, impoverished populations and individuals judged too mentally ill to retain reproductive rights.

As Carolina Public Press reported this summer, Buncombe County had the fifth-most sterilizations of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

No one knows how many of the program’s victims are still alive, but state researchers estimate that as many as, but probably fewer than, 3,000 might be. As of late October, only 48 living victims had contacted state offices and been verified, according to N.C. Sterilization Victims Foundation Director Charmaine Fuller Cooper.

At its Oct. 27 meeting, the task force detailed some final assignments, which were summed up in a release from the N.C. Department of Administration [PDF]. The key tasks:

• An attorney and a former judge will finalize a recommendation on the amount to pay surviving victims. In its preliminary report, issued in August, the task force said its members had discussed payments ranging from $20,000 to $50,000. Whatever the task force’s final recommendations are, any compensation by the state would have to be appropriated by the General Assembly.

• A journalist and a doctor will weigh in on how to provide mental-health care for surviving victims. The preliminary report called for extending state-supported care to those victims who choose it.

• A historian will suggest ways to continue a state-funded exhibit on the history of eugenics in North Carolina. The exhibit was created in 2008 and displayed in a few locations, but it is mothballed now due to lack of funding.

The release also noted that Rep. Thom Tillis, Speaker of the N.C. House, “attended part of the meeting and commended the task force for its work on behalf of victims.” He added that a select committee on compensation for the victims might be established to work concurrently with the task force, and urged the task force to prioritize recommendations that would require new legislation.

The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 6, in Raleigh. Stay tuned to WNC CONFIDENTIAL for more as the story unfolds.

 

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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