Saturday, May 26, 2001
Louisville seeks truth of profiling
Police undertake 'most comprehensive study yet'
By Mike Chambers
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE Police in Louisville, where racial tensions between officers and blacks have escalated in recent years, say they have undertaken the most comprehensive study of racial profiling to date.
University of Louisville researchers will examine not only the race, sex and age of motorists stopped by city police but also the events surrounding the stop.
This is perhaps the most comprehensive data collection effort of its kind, Mayor Dave Armstrong said.
Louisville police released preliminary data Friday on the subject of racial profiling based on 10,000 traffic stops between January and March.
The information is collected from police officers at the time of the traffic stops and is turned over to the University of Louisville for comparison with Census data.
An important thing about this, quite frankly, other than filling the cards out, we don't touch it, Police Chief Greg Smith said.
Tensions have been high
Racial tensions in the city had heightened in the wake of a series of high-profile deaths at the hands of police.
Chief Smith ascended to his job after Mr. Armstrong fired former Chief Gene Sherrard last March for approving medals for two police officers who fatally shot a black car-theft suspect in May 1999.
The firing touched off competing rallies by the police union in protest of Mr. Armstrong's action and then civil-rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, in support of the firing.
Survey one of many
The issue came to a head when Mr. Armstrong, who is white, accused some on the police force of racial profiling and told a New York Times reporter that doubters should drive blackface around Louisville to see for themselves.
The city's survey is among the latest undertaken by police forces around the country. A national report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics showed black drivers were more likely than whites to be stopped, searched, handcuffed or ticketed.
That's something I think Louisville desperately needed to address, and I'm glad they've done that, said Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Franklin, who sponsored a measure to require Kentucky police to adopt policies against racial profiling. Complaints in other parts of the state also make similar surveys in rural departments worthwhile, Mr. Wilkey said.
I think there is certainly enough smoke to investigate whether or not there's a fire, Mr. Wilkey said.
The Kentucky State Police and about three dozen law-enforcement agencies around the state are now collecting information about the practices of their departments.
Louisville's most recent survey showed that blacks, who make up 33 percent of the city's population, were stopped 31 percent of the time. It also showed that non-whites were slightly more likely to be asked to exit their vehicle or undergo warrant checks than whites, by a margin of 20 percent to 16 percent. But Gennaro Vito, a researcher with the University of Louisville, said that statistic can't be attributed to race alone.
These are preliminary numbers, and preliminary numbers show that racial profiling is not occurring within the Louisville Division of Police, Chief Smith said. Louisville will continue to collect data for more comprehensive reports, he said.
The survey followed training by Louisville police on racial profiling, and a community committee advised police on the content of the forms.
Professor David Harris, an authority on racial profiling with the University of Toledo College of Law, criticized the survey for using Census data, which isn't as effective a tool as information that examines the driving public. But on the whole, he said, the report considers more factors than similar reports done for other departments.
What you have here is a good start, Mr. Harris said. Data collection is no panacea. It is, however, an important and necessary first step in confronting the issue and understanding what kind of problem there might be.
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