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Gallatin County Sheriff responds to ACLU report alleging bias in arrests

Posted at 3:39 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 12:50:39-04

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin issued a statement on Wednesday in response to a recent ACLU report that claims Black people in Gallatin County were arrested at a higher rate than white people for marijuana possession.

The entirety of Sheriff Gootkin's statement is below:

This past Sunday, I grabbed the Bozeman Daily Chronicle from our mailbox and read the front page headline, “RED FLAGS”. I had been contacted by the Chronicle late last week about a ACLU report that alleged law enforcement was arresting black people for possession of marijuana at a much higher rate than white people. The Chronicle article stated, “In 2018 there were 506 black people and 106,028 white people in Gallatin County. Black people were arrested 2,174 times for marijuana compared to 120 times for white people.” I knew immediately this was blatantly wrong and misleading. The Chronicle later discovered that this was not factual and changed it to “people were arrested at a rate of 2,174 times per 100,000 arrests. The rate for white people was 120 times per 100,000.”

I asked some of our people to evaluate the data from the ACLU report and read the entire FBI Uniform Crime Reporting for 2018, which was the ACLU’s source of information. On Monday, I received the arrest data from the same FBI report. In 2018, the entire Gallatin County Law enforcement community had 177 arrests for marijuana possession, 11 of these arrests were black people. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office had 26 arrests for possession of marijuana, 2 of these arrests were black people. I was also informed that small sample sizes may result in inflated effect estimation due to high variability.

Your Sheriff’s Office works hard to hire good people who do this job for the right reason, to help people. We have a culture that we live by and train to. All of our policies and procedures are vetted through national, state and local organizations and updated by case law. We are committed to identifying the community needs and addressing them in a humane, creative and responsible manner. Your deputies are engaged in robust training to better serve every member of this community. I hold this office to a standard that requires every member to be honest, to act without bias, and to uphold the liberties of every citizen regardless of sex, race or religion.

Lastly, Gallatin County is a special and welcoming community. I cannot stand by while people and organizations infer that your peace officers are biased and targeting black people. Your Deputy Sheriffs put on the uniform to protect and serve ALL of us. We are not perfect by any means, but we are the opposite of what this report and article depicts. Instead of accusations, we need conversations. That’s why I have emailed the Chronicle and the ACLU to sit down and actually talk about this issue. If anyone ever has a question or concern on this Office, my door is always open. I will ask all members of this community to join us on Facebook, go to our website or contact me directly at Sheriff@gallatin.mt.gov so we can share facts directly to the public.

– Sheriff Brian Gootkin