New measure would require police departments to track race data - KPTV - FOX 12

New measure would require police departments to track race data

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A proposed bill being considered by the Oregon legislature would require every law enforcement agency in the state to start tracking its traffic stops and storing the information in a database.

House Bill 2355 would require officers to record the race or ethnicity of drivers and pedestrians they stop.  That information would be collected and stored in a department database, with an analysis of the department's total stops eventually sent to the state's Department of Public Safety and Standards training.

Some police departments around the state already collect this data, including the Portland Police Bureau, which has been recording and tracking stops data since 2001.

"The push was to ensure that profiling or biased policing either wasn't occurring or if we had data that did show that it was, how could we change or affect that," said Captain Michael Krantz, who heads up the bureau's Strategic Services Division.

Kayse Jama, Executive Director of Unite Oregon, a Portland non-profit organization that promotes social and racial justice, said the transparency is important when it comes to keeping law enforcement accountable.

Jama believes Portland's stops data, for instance, shows a trend that needs to be addressed.

"Every year when they analyze that data, it clearly shows there is a disparity between the number of people of color being stopped compared to their white counterparts," said Jama.

According to the police bureau's data, during the third quarter of 2016, which is the most recent available record, blacks and African Americans accounted for more than 13% of the department's stops.  Those numbers have been consistent over the last five years, even though the most recent U.S. Census figures show the black community makes up a little more than 6% of Portland's population. 

Though Krantz agrees transparency is important, he said the numbers alone don't tell the whole story, largely because there is no nationally accepted benchmark to measure them against.

"Should we compare it to the general population census, and then should that expectation be that those numbers of stops should exactly match the population, or is there a benchmark that hasn't been discovered yet?" asked Krantz.

Krantz said in recent years, officers have been more often dispatched to high-crime areas.  In the past two years, officers have been focused on an increase in gang-related shootings.

"If you go back and look at the numbers of the violent activity resulting mostly from gunshots or firearm activity violence, a lot of those numbers disproportionately include communities of color," said Krantz.

Still, those like Jama, who support a state-wide database of police stops, believe a foundation of data is a base to build on.

"We don't know what's going on without data. And that's why the data is so incredibly valuable," said Kimberly McCullough, a representative with the ACLU of Oregon.

HB 2355 was approved by the House Judicial Committee and is now being considered by the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

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