Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Cops: profiling problem small

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Most police executives do not believe racial profiling is a serious problem for their departments or for minorities in the communities they patrol, according to a Police Executive Research Forum report released Monday.

        But 37 percent of the executives who participated said they have had internal discussions about racial profiling, 19 percent have developed new policies and 12 percent have modified existing policies to respond to the perception that officers disproportionately target minorities.

        The report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 police executives and focus groups with police and community leaders, urges police officials to improve the education, training and monitoring of officers. It also provides some guidance for departments that require officers to collect demographic data at traffic stops but does not specifically endorse data collection as a remedy.

        “Race alone is never, never an appropriate factor for making a decision,” said Lorie Fridell, director of research for the nonprofit forum. The group received money from the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct the report.

        Lawsuits and public pressure have led more than 400 police departments nationwide to collect demographic data during traffic stops.

        Cincinnati police began gathering data in May under City Council orders after a lawsuit accused police of three decades of racial discrimination. The lawsuit is in mediation.

        Federal lawmakers are considering legislation that would authorize a national study on racial profiling and withhold federal money from states or local police agencies that fail to prohibit the practice and monitor officers.

        The forum, a research and advocacy group for police executives, concluded that racial profiling is a human rights issue that can be resolved only through police and community partnerships.

        Yet the survey of police executives shows only a small number of executives perceive racially biased policing as a serious problem. The forum found 59.9 percent of police executives said it was not a problem in their jurisdictions and 29.1 percent saw it as only a minor problem. Just 0.2 percent of executives described racial profiling as a very serious problem.

        More than 65 percent of police executives believe minorities in their communities either do not see racial profiling as a problem or consider it a minor problem.

        Police executives at larger departments — with more than 250 officers — were more likely to have had internal discussions about racial profiling and were more apt to have developed policies or modified existing ones to address the issue. Fifty-eight percent told researchers they had internal discussions, 31 percent created policies and 22 percent modified policies.

        The report found data collection could help police departments determine whether racial disparities exist and show communities a commitment to unbiased policing. But the data also could be used against police departments and erode productivity and morale.

        Researchers caution statistics alone might not explain racial patterns in traffic stops or arrests. They recommendpolice departments match such data with census information, drivers' license records, accident reports and crime statistics. An independent observer also should analyze the demographic data.

        In Cincinnati, the city will create a new computer system and hire outside analysts to study the data officers collected.

        Jerry Oliver, police chief in Richmond, Va., said police need to counter the perception that racial profiling is widespread but must respond to the unique circumstances in their communities.

        “There is no cookie-cutter approach for resolving problems,” he said.


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