People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Bureau Data for 2011 Show Disparity Of African American
Searches Rising, Producing Less Contraband
In July, 2013, the Portland Police Bureau finally released (partial) data for the year 2011 regarding traffic stops, showing that rather
than decreasing their racial profiling while under scrutiny, the police are doing worse. The data were presented at the Community/Police Relations Committee meeting with the same level-headed analysis prefacing the information as with the 2010 data: That racism may play a part in the disparity of numbers (PPR #57). In May and June, Portland Copwatch participated in two presentations about profiling, one at Portland's monthly "Race Talks" and the other in Salem about a piece of legislation to curb the practice.
For the first time, the Bureau itself has analyzed one of the most important questions about their stop data: after a person is pulled over, regardless of whether the cop could see the person's race beforehand, what decisions are made after the stop? PCW has shown that in past years, about 4% of white drivers were subjected to "discretionary searches," meaning the officer wasn't towing the car or searching incident to an arrest, thus was presumably relying on "reasonable suspicion" to conduct the search. African Americans, by contrast, were searched about 9% of the time. The "hit rate," that is, contraband found in all searches, showed that police found unlawful items on African Americans only about 80% as often as they did on white drivers (data did not separate contraband found in discretionary searches). The new data show that the disparity is worsening: white drivers subjected to discretionary searches went down to 2% while the African American driver search rate was at 8.3%, or over four times as often. Meanwhile, the "hit rate" for African Americans went down to only about 70% as "productive" as the searches on whites. In August, Assistant Chief Mike Crebs stated that the Bureau has known about the search and hit rate disparity for years. Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea talked about work done in the County probation and parole office that led to addressing some of the disparity in how community members are treated there. CPRC agreed to hold a public forum to present the data.
The numbers show a relatively steady rate of traffic and pedestrian stops of black Portlanders: about 12% of drivers stopped are African American as are about 20% of pedestrians and cyclists. But as noted in previous years, this means (a) black people are stopped at 2-3 times their representation in the population (6%), and (b) officers' claims about not knowing a person's race fall flat when discussing pedestrian stops.
On May 14, PCW's Dan Handelman was invited to join Chief Mike Reese and Kayse Jama of the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) at the monthly "Race Talks" which brings community members together to look at race issues in Portland. Handelman presented the pedestrian and traffic stops data (known at that time) regarding African Americans along with data about police shootings (25%), use of force (29%), exclusions from "Illegal Drug Impact Areas" (52%) and gun exclusion zones (86%) among others, noting that the discussion on racial profiling has been going on a long time with little change in the numbers. Jama talked about the CIO's efforts to curb profiling through a bill that would prohibit such discriminatory policing and provide avenues for accountability, also relating personal stories of being pulled over for apparently no reason but the color of his skin (Jama is originally from Somalia). The Chief tried to put a happy political spin on the numbers, starting by relating that he grew up in mixed race neighborhoods in Portland, then talking a little about the CPRC's efforts to start up institutional racism training among the upper ranks of the Bureau.
The Oregon House and Senate's Judiciary Committees held a special joint session in mid-July to discuss the CIO's bills. Handelman was among the dozen or so invited speakers to talk about the impact of profiling and the importance of changing police behavior. About half the speakers were from outside Portland. Former PPB Sergeant Jeff Barker co-chaired the meeting, looking up briefly from his computer tablet to ask a McMinnville student what he might have been doing to draw police attention to himself. Barker's anti-civilian comments were well documented in the PPR back when he was Portland Police Association President-- some things never change.
The CPRC itself continues to struggle with its role bridging the gap between community members impatient for change and officers defending the status quo. Having lost their meeting place in 2012 and spent most of a year meeting at North Precinct, they decided to move to a "community meeting room" at the former Southeast Precinct at 47th and Burnside. Unfortunately, the meeting room is in the lobby of the Bureau's Traffic Division. To make matters worse, the first meeting there, held in June, was moved to the Roll Call room in the basement, requiring attendees to be escorted by police, and later to witness officers readying to go out on the streets cocking shotguns on the way. In another move putting the 10 community members of the Committee in league with the 5 officers, the Bureau gave a special "achievement medal" to the CPRC for developing the institutional racism training. While it is preferable to see the results of that training move its way through the ranks (there are still about 800 officers and sergeants to be trained), the Bureau could do worse than to shine a light on the CPRC's work.
At their June meeting, the CPRC was handed a spreadsheet (in miniscule font size) showing what the Bureau believes has been accomplished toward satisfying the 2009 Plan to Address Racial Profiling. The Committee will revisit that document sometime soon.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.