People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Chief Sizer Finally Releases (Good
Roughly two years after the deadline given her by community groups, Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer released her plan to reduce racial profiling on Feb. 18. That morning, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) published its own interim report on "Disparate Treatment Complaints" examined by its Bias Based Policing Work Group. At the March 18 meeting of the "Community/Police Relations Committee" of the new Human Rights Commission (HRC), none of the group's citizen members had read either report, indicating that the demise of Mayor Potter's Racial Profiling Committee (RPC) has hampered citizens' ability to address the issue.
Sizer's plan repeats many of the same recommendations made by a "Blue Ribbon Panel on Racial Profiling" in 2000 (PPR #22). Ideas such as conducting cultural competency trainings, hiring more officers of color, improving data collection to match Oregon statewide efforts, and working more closely with the community were all part of the plan from over eight years ago. Sizer added to the plan one proposal Portland Copwatch has been suggesting for years: having officers hand out business cards at every stop. She also acknowledges that effort has to be put into examining why more searches are conducted on people of color, and why they turn up less contraband than searches of white people-- the so-called "hit rate."
But Sizer's plan falls short in many places. Regarding the "hit rate," Sizer missed an important statistic: The Bureau has repeatedly asserted that using population ratios is not a good "benchmark" to prove profiling is occurring, but her plan compares the percentage of those searched to the population. Her table shows "discretionary searches"; that is, searches other than "inventory searches" done automatically upon arrests and/or tows. Whether police create reasons to conduct inventory searches is not addressed by this calculation. Her numbers indicate that African Americans are 6% of the population, and 8% of those searched, Latinos are 9% of the population, and 11% of those searched, while whites are 74% of the population and 4% of those searched. However, PCW tabulates that 13% of white people pulled over are searched while 26% of African Americans and Latinos are searched; this ratio shows clearly that people of color are twice as likely to be searched as whites. By showing contraband rates averaging 27% for people of color compared to 33% for whites, the Bureau report doesn't make it clear that this disparity means people of color who are searched have contraband only 80% as often as whites who are searched.
Unlike the 2000 plan, Sizer's plan also does not include a section on accountability. It restates the Bureau's intention to change state sunshine laws so that if individual officers' traffic stops are monitored, the public will not be allowed to see that information. Other states have used identifying numbers to shield the officers' identities without changing important public records laws.
One questionable proposal directs officers to give a warning or a ticket at every stop. While this might reduce the number of times people are pulled over with the perception that there was "no reason," it may also encourage police to create reasons for their stops.
The phenomenon of "pretext stops" is addressed in the CRC's Disparate Treatment Complaints report. That report examines 60 complaints made to the Independent Police Review Division (IPR), most of them about alleged bias, whether about race, gender, sexual orientation or ability. Some complaints by white drivers were examined to see if the police behavior or the IPR's investigation were handled differently from complaints by people of color. Others were African American drivers who complained about traffic stops but did not allege racial profiling, to see if investigators missed the allegation. Most complaints involved officer rudeness.
The CRC's report notes that pretext stops generate many complaints, despite technically being legal according to case law. "The reviewers found that when some minority complainants were stopped for a minor traffic violation, like failure to signal more than 100 feet before a turn, they expressed doubt they were actually stopped for [that] violation, and those complainants often assumed that race played a role in the stop." Both reports noted that "mere conversation" is another tool used by police which creates tension in the community. But the CRC report explicitly notes that they "did not feel that the complainant understood that they had a right or felt free to walk away from an officer." In some cases complainants "felt that the officers were misrepresenting their identity, their evidence or probable cause, or the purpose of their conversation in the hopes of getting the complainant to disclose criminal activity."
The CRC criticized IPR intake staff for sometimes cutting off complainants before they finished telling their stories, occasionally missing allegations, and having inconsistent tone in fielding calls.
Recommendations in the CRC report also included cultural competency training, handing out business cards, and having more communication between community members and police outside of patrol and emergency call situations. They also raised the question of why officers occasionally would loudly announce the criminal history of some community members, implying it was done to embarrass the person.
The CRC reported a few specific examples of complaints, such as an African American man stopped because he was wearing blue, allegedly a "gang" color, and police speaking only to men, ignoring women who wanted to talk to them. The report could have benefitted from other stories such as one told at Work Group meetings about officers at a basketball game where trouble had been reported zeroing in on a young African American man, despite crowd members telling the cops he was the wrong guy.
The "Community/Police Relations Committee" (CPRC) of the HRC spent the early part of the year defining their mission. Chief Sizer and/or Assistant Chief Brian Martinek attended in February and March, along with a few public audience members.
Portland Copwatch (PCW) raised a concern at the February meeting regarding anecdotal reports and a Willamette Week article that officers engaged in a crackdown on gangs--known as "Operation Cool Down"--were targeting every young African American male on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. "[Officer Russ] Corno is frank about who they're targeting: young black men. 'Statistics don't lie,' he says. 'You gotta go where the numbers go.'" The January 28 article, written by a reporter who went on a ride-along with the cops, indicated they were performing pat- down searches on every young black male, hoping they understood it was to quell the upsurge in "gang violence."
Despite adding this concern to the March meeting agenda, CPRC Chair Hector Lopez allowed the police to defer the discussion yet again when Martinek bristled that audience questions seemed to come with "an agenda." The police, who explained away what they indicated was the necessity and usefulness of pretext stops, had no "agenda." Lopez was Chair of the CRC when he and four other members resigned in protest that the CRC was not strong enough to hold police accountable (PPR #30). In addition, the Office of Human Rights is staffed by former Latino Network Director Maria Lisa Johnson, who was on the RPC. If the CPRC is merely to be a forum that lets police feel comfortable and explain their behavior that is or is perceived as profiling, it will be unfortunate.
Finally, Sizer's report was called the "Plan to Address Racial Profiling" despite the endless arguments from police on the RPC about the use of that term. An officer who sat on the Committee told PCW that officers are actually more upset about the requirement that they hand out business cards than they are about the use of the term Racial Profiling. Anything they see as adding more work, the officer said, is met with resistance.
In response to the Jan. 28 Willamette Week article on profiling youth on MLK, retired officer Dave Barrios and Officer Russ Corno wrote letters to the Rap Sheet, the "police union" newspaper (February issue). Barrios defended the officers, stating that deadly violence to young people is a greater threat than profiling. Corno and his partner Pete Mahuna, featured in the WW, are allegedly respected, as they "shag youngsters off dangerous corners, notify parents of kids' risky behavior, and diffuse hostility with their humor and street-experienced style." It's not racial profiling, says Barrios, it's saving lives and re-enforcing community values.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.