African Americans 240%, Latinos 170% More Likely Pulled Over; Cops Attend Community Forums

It seems as if we've written this article before, and maybe you've read it. The Portland Police released statistics in May revealing that "police stopped African Americans at 2.4 the rate of whites. Latinos were 1.7 times more likely than whites to be stopped by police" (Oregonian, May 18). This is almost the exact same news we reported in August, 2001 (PPR #24) when the rate at which African Americans were stopped was 2.6 times that of whites.

For reasons that are unclear, statistics from 2004 were prepared for release last October, but were released simultaneously with the 2005 statistics in May, about a month after (European-American) Chief Rosie Sizer took over for (African-American) Chief Derrick Foxworth.

The statistics also confirmed a contention that Portland Copwatch has emphasized for years: that the stops themselves don't say as much as what happens afterward. According to the data, though African Americans make up only 6% of Portland's adult population, they represented 13% of the stops; following the stops, 27% were searched; Latinos make up 6% of the population but were the subject of 9% of all stops and 26% were searched. By comparison, whites, (who now make up 79% of the population) accounted for an average 69.5% of stops and only 12.5% were searched. Most telling: The searches of whites yielded contraband 6% of the time, while searches of African Americans and Latinos only turned up illegal goods 4% of the time. This means that people of color were overall five times more likely to be searched, but those searched were found carrying illegal items 33% less often than whites.

The Bureau's report cites Lorie Fridell of the Police Executive Research Forum stating that "if a police officer is using the same criteria to evaluate everyone about whether to search them...all racial/ethnic groups would have illegal items in their possession at the same rate."

Much to her credit, Chief Sizer, prior to releasing the information, had agreed to attend a series of five community forums organized by Oregon Action and several other community groups. The forums gained in attendance as they moved around the City's five precincts, with plenty of officers present to hear what citizens had to say. At the first hearing, African American officer Dana Lewis stated bluntly that profiling should based on criminal behavior and not race. Former Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Sam Sachs explained that having seen both sides he feels resolving the issue is crucial to end the "us vs. them" dynamic that exists between the community and the police.

The Chief declared that the meetings had made an impact: "Hearing good people make their case time and time again at these hearings moves me" (Portland Mercury, June 29). Her openness is encouraging, for as the Oregonian printed in their May 19th editorial: "Portland police can point to no good excuse why they stop African American and Latino drivers more frequently than they stop white drivers.....there is no good reason."

The revelations of the statistics came at a time when members of the African American Community saw Chief Foxworth suspended from office, and one of his Assistant Chiefs, Dorothy Elmore pushed into early retirement by Sizer. Community activist and former PIIAC chair Charles Ford noted two parallel dynamics at work: "Racial profiling by a minority of officers of African Americans outside the police bureau who have the audacity to drive a car; and if you're inside the police bureau, there's no room for you at the top" (Portland Tribune, May 23).

Shortly after the City's information was released, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office put out a report showing that African Americans "accounted for 27.6 percent of felony jail booking, 25.3 percent of misdemeanor bookings, and 23.3 percent of bookings overall" (Portland Tribune, June 2). Chief Sizer told the Tribune, "The question really is, 'Are those people committing more crimes or are they just arrested at a higher rate?" Sheriff Bernie Giusto added, "On paper we don't really have [equity] and that means we aren't doing our jobs as well as we could be."

Oregon Action (503-282-6588) is scheduled to present a report on racial profiling to City Council on Wednesday, October 4 at 10:15 AM.*

*Web note: The hearing was subsequently rescheduled to October 19, 2006 at 3 PM.

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