Nation-wide, collecting data on the race and gender of people stopped and searched by the police has become the stock law enforcement response to community outrage about racial profiling. Both the Portland and Oregon State Police began such data collection in January.
Last year, a Police Bureau Blue Ribbon Panel conceded that racial profiling exists in Portland "to some extent" (see PPR #22). The Panel, consisting of cops, local bureaucrats, and African-American and Latino activists, made modest recommendations for addressing race-based traffic and foot stops, including increases in officer training, minority hiring, and data collection.
Though a Gallup Poll taken last year shows that the majority of Americans, regardless of race, believe that the police target suspects based solely on their race, police departments have been assured by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that they need only begin collecting data to avoid Federal civil rights prosecution and to build "trust and respect for the police in the community" ("A Resource Guide on Racial Profiling Data Collection Systems," DoJ, November, 2000). This is particularly offensive since the DoJ's own reports on racial profiling found that research, evidence and survey data prove that racial profiling is practiced widely in American cities. From the outset, the police seem confident that these studies will exonerate them.
In Portland, the data will be collected by officers themselves and there will be no cross-checking mechanisms to verify the data's validity. Furthermore, there will be no way to pinpoint officers who are engaged in racial profiling, because the data will be kept on the Bureau as a whole, not on individual officers. The police insist that profiling is a rare phenomenon carried out by a few bad apples on the force, yet they refuse to track the behavior of individual officers to get to the root of the problem. What's more, any evidence of racial profiling uncovered is to be used solely for training and "mentoring" purposes, not disciplining racist officers.
Clearly, the objective of data collection is not to end racism, but only to buy several years' time from the public to "study" the problem. Oregon State Police Superintendent Ronald Rucker confirmed this when he said, "Communities want to know they are being treated the same by the police. This data will help show that." (Salem Statesman-Journal January, 2001).
Such a whitewash won't be accepted by the community, judging by a March 14 Town Hall Meeting on Racial Profiling sponsored by the Portland State University NAACP and the Oregon Students of Color Coalition.The event featured testimonials from police misconduct victim Dora McCrae and several African-American students, who relayed stories of police and campus racism. Approximately 100 attendees then marched to City Hall to support McCrae in her PIIAC appeal and call for an independent civilian review board (see related stories on Dora McCrae and PIIAC ). City Council was clearly impacted by the group's presence, particularly when they left in protest during Mayor Katz's long-winded justification of police racism and excessive force.
For more information contact the NAACP/OSCC at 503-725-8388 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Nov. 2000 Department of Justice report is available at http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/bja/184768 .pdf .
The Blue Ribbon Panel on Racial Profiling plan is on the PPB website at www.portlandpolicebureau.com.
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