Sunday, June 17, 2001

Profiling forms get shaky start

Many erroneous or incomplete

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        New racial profiling forms that Cincinnati police must complete on every traffic stop are often incompletely or inaccurately filled out.

        An Enquirer analysis of 350 sheets designed for collecting race data shows about one-fourth either have mistakes or are missing information, ranging from not listing the time of the incident to omitting the driver's race.

        For the past month Cincinnati police have been struggling to organize a new system that will document the race of every driver and the circumstances of every traffic stop they make.

[photo] Cincinnati Police Officer Mike Bepler fills out a form to track racial profiling.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        City council ordered the new requirement, which started May 7, to help establish whether police racially profile — stop African-Americans simply because of their race.

        A senior police official defended the startup of the data collection.

        “There's only so much humanly possible,” Lt. Col. Richard Janke said. “We didn't collect data of this type before in other years. It's a brand new process, a brand new report. It's expected there will be some refinement.”

        The Enquirer examined 462 contact sheets completed between May 7 and May 31. Of those, 350 were motor vehicle stops, for which officers are required to completely fill out the form. The others either did not indicate the type of stop or were marked “field investigation,” meaning the stop did not involve a motor vehicle.

        While officers are required to fill out the forms only for motor vehicle stops, they often turn in information on other stops because the data will eventually go into the division's new Criminal Intelligence Database, which will help investigators solve crimes.

        The Enquirer analysis found that:

        • Officers don't always understand the reporting process: A three-page form was handed out explaining the forms and officers are reminded of their importance at each shift change. There is still come confusion, however. In one field investigation report “NA” under race was marked five times and used to mean “Not Applicable” when it is supposed to indicate “Native American.”

        • They are careless: In many instances, officers failed to detail the driver's demeanor in the comments section after marking the box “other” under citizen's attitude. One officer marked “combative and polite” to describe the subject's attitude. Others did not fill out how long a stop took. A few even left out their names and badge numbers.

    The contact cards Cincinnati police officers are now filling out serve a dual purpose:
    • They are part of a collection process that will help the city determine whether officers engage in racial profiling. Police are required by city ordinance to fill out the forms for every motor vehicle they stop.
    • They replace another information sheet, called a Field Interview Report card, that police fill out during other types of stops. All information is forwarded to the division's new Criminal Intelligence Database, which will help investigators solve crimes.
   What information the officer must obtain:
• Incident number
• Date
• Time
• Stop duration
• Police district where the stop occurred
• Location by address
• Race, sex and age of driver
• Race, sex and age of every passenger
• Reason for the stop
• How long the stop took
• Whether there was a search
• How long the search took
• Legal basis for the search
• If there was contraband
• Citation
• Arrest
• Citizen's attitude
• Citizen's name
• Date of birth
• Address
• Height, weight, hair and eye color
• Employer
• Home phone, work phone and cell
• Vehicle state
• Make, model, year, color of car and plate number
• Whether photos were taken
• Clothing description
• Tattoo description
• Whether gang affiliation
• Parent/guardian
• Address of the parent/guardian
• Interview information
• Officer name
• The district where the officer is assigned
• Officer badge number

        • They don't always fill out the forms completely or correctly: On a number of traffic stops half the form is blank, leaving out the citizen's name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. The race of the driver also was not indicated for a handful of motor vehicle stops, which is a requirement spelled out in the city ordinance.        

Backlog of analysis

        It will be at least September before the city gets a computer system and analyst to know what the reports show. That lag time, experts say, may create a backlog that could cause problems in the eventual analysis.

        “It does take good training and close supervision and follow-up to make a system like this work,” said David Harris, a professor of law and values at the University of Toledo Law School and a leading expert on racial profiling.

        Lt. Col. Janke said citizens will have to be patient about what the data shows about racial profiling.

        “We do not have any problem along these lines,” he said, defending officers in the division. But he added: “It will be analyzed.”

        Nationally, more and more departments are instituting policies that require police officers to fill out similar forms. A bill in Congress would ban racial profiling and punish state and local law-enforcement agencies that refuse to comply by withholding federal grants.

        Allegations of racial profiling by Cincinnati police are in an unprecedented mediation process while the case is pending in federal court.

        Black activists and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in March, asking a federal court to end what they say has been 30 years of unchecked discrimination by police.

        “We are not there yet,” said Al Gerhardstein, one of the local lawyers who filed the suit. “We, certainly, those of us who filed the lawsuit, view the record keeping as a work in progress. ...

        “We didn't expect the ordinance to solve all the problems.”

        Though departments in cities like Pittsburgh and San Jose are far ahead in the process, Cincinnati is just getting started.        

What beat cops say

        Street officers here say they are still getting used to the new form.

        “I haven't really heard much grumbling about it,” said Officer Mike Bepler, who patrols downtown and Mount Adams. “It's just like anything else. Things always change on this job.”

        The first two forms took a while, he said, because he had to refer to the instruction sheet.

        While some officers say they don't like the forms and feel it's an attack on their professionalism, they are filling them out.

        “Nobody wants to be the first one jammed up because he didn't do one,” said Officer Charlie Zopfi, who patrols Over-the-Rhine.

        “If I have to ask you for your Social (Security number) or date of birth or (I) stopped you for any reason even for a minute of your time, I'm going to fill out one of these. I don't know anybody who is not doing one. If they aren't, they're just waiting to get in trouble.”

        Brian Davidson, 27 of Norwood, was questioned by police May 18 because he fit the description of a suspect in a breaking and entering incident. In Mr. Davidson's case, the contact sheet — which was filled out correctly — was labeled a field investigation because he was on foot at the time.

        “Hey, what the heck,” Mr. Davidson said. “By having those cards he (officer) has to show proof of who he pulled over, and if he's been known to pull over a lot of black guys, they can bring it to his attention.

        “If they start getting proof that they're not racially profiling maybe it'll help so people won't think we're such a racist town.”

        Mr. Davidson was not charged in the incident.        

Growing pains

        Top division officials say they were anticipating mistakes at first and that the analyst will be able to help remedy them when the time comes.

        “The simple word for this is growing pains,” Lt. Col. Janke said. “In the first 30 days you can't expect every form to be completed correctly.

        “Supervisors are expected to review these forms but we are having service demands put on us that are exceptional: preparation for protests, reallocation of personnel.”

        The city's next step in implementing the racial profiling forms is choosing a company that will create the computer system to keep the data and an analyst who will study it.

        Twenty-three companies have shown interest in the statistical analysis request and 19 in the computer system request. The deadline for both proposals was Friday. The city expects to start negotiations with the companies July 2.

        Despite any initial problems or delays, the division is committed to collecting the information, Lt. Col. Janke said.

        “We have a lot of good people and people are filling out the cards, but we're not perfect,” he said.

        Dr. Harris cautions, though, that too many mistakes could taint the results. He stressed the importance of not only collecting the right information but doing it the right way.

        “There has to be somebody following through, looking over their shoulders saying, “No, not like that, like this.'

        "If you don't do it right, the effort might be wasted and that's in nobody's interest.”

        Reporter John J. Byczkowski contributed to this story.


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