Organizers with Oregon Action plan a march on Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer on Monday morning, armed with petitions calling for a comprehensive plan to address racial profiling.
"On May 18, 2006, was the first of the community listening session we held to allow a discussion about racial profiling in Portland, and in October of 2006 the Portland City Council accepted the listening session report," said Geri Washington of Oregon Action.
"The listening session report had six suggestions to eliminate racial profiling — for the Chief to develop a plan to be implemented within the bureau to eliminate racial profiling was just one of those things," Washington said. "The promise was made but the promise has not been kept."
Washington said more than 600 Portlanders have signed a petition calling for an end to racial profiling by Portland police officers.
The petition calls for the plan to include five parts, including collection and analysis of data on individual offers' traffic and pedestrian stops; an end to "policies and procedures which result in racial profiling," such as pretext stops, curfews targeting specific areas, and warrantless searches; residency requirements for new officer hires, along with recruitment, hiring and promotion guidelines designed to make the bureau more representative of the local community; rewarding officers for positive behavior as well as holding officers accountable for discriminatory behavior; and requiring that all bureau staff be trained to avoid racial profiling.
Chief Sizer was injured, and unavailable to comment for this article by press time.
Racial Profiling Committee
After accepting the listening session report, the Portland City Council created a special commission called the Mayor's Racial Profiling Committee, which has been meeting since early 2007.
The committee has more than a dozen members, including JoAnn Bowman of Oregon Action, Dan Handleman of Portland Copwatch, Rev. LeRoy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Portland Police Association President Robert King.
Complete transcripts of their meetings are available on the city website, www.portlandonline.com.
The transcripts show the group has consistently discussed statistics on racial trends in police stops.
However, in January of this year the Portland police officer's union released an independent study of race and traffic stops that concluded there is no such thing as racial profiling.
The study, conducted by criminal justice professor Brian L. Withrow of Witchita State University in Kansas, said that the city's data is fundamentally flawed and cannot be used to prove the existence of racial profiling, which King insists does not exist.
Withrow's study made seven recommendations, including the institution of an auditing system for data collection; the collection of more specific data; including more information on juveniles in the stop data; use of ethnic and racial categories that are more consistent with mainstream population research; including more details about the stops; evaluating the data at the district level; and developing an alternative method to the current population benchmark strategy of data collection.
Overall, the position of the Portland police officers' union is summed up by its introduction to the Withrow report posted on the union website: "The PPA has long believed that the public pronouncements that Portland police engage in race profiling are not only inflammatory, but also wrong, and that those who make such pronouncements have misconstrued the 'stop data' collected by the Police Bureau."
Most Recent Statistics
The most recent stop data released by the police bureau is on pedestrian and bicycle stops in 2006, in a report made public in March of 2007.
The numbers show that citywide, African Americans comprised 24 percent of bike and pedestrian stops, while only making up 7 percent of the general population. Thrity-four percent of the stops resulted in an arrest, and 48 percent ended in a warning.
In 39 percent of the stops, no drugs, weapons, alcohol or other contraband was found.
However Handleman of Portland Copwatch and Alexandro Queral, formerly of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, argued before the racial profiling committee that far more significant than the stop data are statistics on use of force, released at their request committee meetings earlier this year by Chief Sizer.
"The community is focusing on the stop statistics," Handelman told The Skanner, "but the followup is, once you stop someone and see what race they are, what then?"
In a data table covering use of force from Sept 1, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2006, police statistics showed Black citizens comprised 29 percent of all uses of force, more than four times their demographic within the city's population.
African Americans sustained 30 percent of all "takedowns," 29 percent of all "control holds," 28 percent of all taser strikes, 31 percent of pepper spray deployments, and 29 percent of all "point weapon" use of drawn firearms.
In the Northeast precinct, Black residents comprised 48 percent of all arrests, and 53 percent of all use of force incidents, while making up 23 percent of the population.
"Elements of a Plan"
In March of 2007, Chief Sizer released a document titled "Racial Profile Committee, Elements of a Plan."
It outlined a page and a half of potential actions to be taken by the police bureau to address concerns about racial profiling, ranging from improved data collection systems to "relationship building," better training and hiring practices, increasing the number of written warnings and "uniform traffic citations" and creating a pilot project on searches.
The second proposal on the "Elements of a Plan" list was to draft statewide legislation preventing the public from gaining access to data collection information, and "develop a coalition to sponsor and advocate for draft legislation."
"As we come up on the two-year anniversary of the listening process, in which story after story of racial profiling were heard, it is ridiculous that the PPA commissions a study to falsely refute the reality of police racial profiling," said Shiela Warren of Oregon Action's Community Campaign to End Racial Profiling, in a written statement.
Members of the group plan to convene Monday, May 19 at 10 a.m. at City Hall to present their petition to Chief Sizer, Mayor Tom Potter and the City Council.