Police stop blacks most
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010
6/27/10 at 5:41 AM
Records show that Tulsa police have stopped and questioned minorities on city streets at higher rates than white people in recent years, but opinions are mixed as to the cause of the racial disparity.
The Tulsa World analyzed two types of computerized police data from 2007, 2008 and 2009 and found that more than half of those stopped and questioned were not white.
Of more than 15,000 "pedestrian checks," 51 percent involved a nonwhite civilian, the analysis shows.
The racial disparity is greater for so-called field interviews.
Of the more than 14,000 field interviews conducted by Tulsa police during the three-year period, at least 57 percent involved a minority, an analysis of the data shows.
Blacks were the subject of 45 percent of pedestrian stops and 50 percent of all field interviews conducted by police during the three years analyzed. U.S. Census figures show blacks make up about 15 percent of the Tulsa population, while whites constitute 70 percent.
Tulsa police, when presented with the World's findings, said they were unsure why racial disparities existed among those individuals questioned by police.
"We can only make the assumption right now that with the public outcry with the recent violence, especially the shootings and gang violence, we've targeted (patrols) in that area where it's occurring," said police spokesman Capt. Jonathan Brooks.
He noted that the youngest and most active officers on the force often lead the department in field interviews.
Since many of those officers work on Tulsa's north side, they may be skewing the numbers, Brooks said.
"But until we can really jump into the numbers deeper — and we won't be able to do that until we get more manpower — we can only make assumptions," Brooks said.
Beginning with traffic citations, officials recently began the process of analyzing the data that the Police Department started keeping after a group of black Tulsa Police officers filed a racial discrimination lawsuit, Brooks said. The consent decree that settled the case mandated the collection of such data since 2004 and required that the information be made public.
"When we've taken that data, we really haven't been able to come to a conclusion yet of why there's this anomaly," he said.
Police defended the use of field interviews and pedestrian checks as necessary. "Pedestrian checks are one of the core services when we do proactive policing," Brooks said.
In addition to pedestrian stops and field interviews, the Tulsa Police Department is required to collect data related to individual arrests, traffic citations, use of force, police searches and citizen complaints.
Included in the data are records of every time police stopped and questioned pedestrians as well as every field interview conducted by police.
The data include the race, gender and date of birth of each civilian questioned, the location of the questioning and the identity of the officer who conducted the interview. The names of the individuals are not part of the public data.
Brooks said field interviews are conducted when police encounter a person who may be acting suspiciously but the officer doesn't have probable cause to arrest the person.
Records of pedestrian checks, sometimes called pedestrian stops, can be generated when an officer receives information from a dispatcher and can result in "anything from catching an armed robber to checking on a man in a wheelchair," Brooks said.
During the three-year period examined, the number of Hispanic pedestrians who were stopped and questioned by police has increased 132 percent — from 98 people in 2007 to 227 people in 2009.
Five percent of the officers on the force accounted for one-third of all field interviews during the three-year period.
A computer-assisted mapping analysis of the locations of the field interviews shows that the highest concentration of field interviews and pedestrian checks occurred in the area between Cincinnati and Harvard avenues from 11th to Apache streets.
Police also conducted many field interviews and pedestrian checks in an area near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue and in the 21st Street and U.S. 169 region.
City Councilor Roscoe Turner said the results of the analysis didn't surprise him.
"This has been happening for years," said Turner, whose council district includes areas of north Tulsa where many black people live and where many of the field interviews and pedestrian checks have occurred.
Turner said he thinks the field interviews and pedestrian checks logged in his district can be traced in part to officers there having less experience.
The less experienced officers are more "gung ho" in their policing but less familiar with the residents in the area, Turner said.
As a result, he said, many of his constituents see the police stops as a "race issue."
The fact that minorities are stopped more often than whites is not necessarily evidence of departmentwide racial profiling, according to one expert on the matter.
Greg Ridgeway, director of the Rand Center on Quality Policing, said his organization has conducted similar studies of pedestrian stops at police agencies in Oakland, Calif., Cincinnati and New York City. The studies found that in most of the communities the percentage of minorities who were the subjects of pedestrian stops was higher than their census representation, Ridgeway said.
In two of the cities studied, New York City and Oakland, the high percentage of minority stops was attributed in part to where police resources were being allocated, Ridgeway said.
"Some of it could be a lot more police officers in nonwhite neighborhoods so blacks get exposed to a lot more policing," Ridgeway said. "That itself could be a problem, but it is very different from saying it is racial profiling."
It is common for police to say they allocate officers based on a number of factors, including call volume or the number of serious crimes in a neighborhood, Ridgeway said.
Rand worked with Cincinnati officials for five years after the city was rocked by race riots in the early 2000s.
Cincinnati police made several changes, including in their use-of-force policy, and improved monitoring of police officers to look for warning flags such as excessive use of force or excessive complaints, Ridgeway said.
Over a five-year period, subsequent Rand surveys found that satisfaction with the Cincinnati police improved substantially, Ridgeway said.
"But a lot of things happened. Cincinnati police worked very hard over the course of these four or five years to earn back the trust of the community," he said.
Interestingly, an analysis of Cincinnati police stop data found that little had changed in terms of the races of those stopped.
"The same kinds of people were being stopped — the same sorts of arrests were being made — but a lot of it was the conduct of their stops and the policies of stops" changed, Ridgeway said.
Analyzing police stops is an important exercise for police and raises "good questions," he said.
"Every department collects crime data to understand how to allocate their resources better," Ridgeway said. "I think it's equally important that they turn that analysis inward to make sure that their officers are conducting policing in a fair and just manner."
Those questions put the burden on police to ensure that they are not racially profiling and that they are allocating resources appropriately, he said.
Meanwhile, Tulsa police say they will continue to collect the traffic citation, pedestrian stop and other data called for by the consent decree even though court oversight may end soon.
A federal judge in May OK'd a settlement agreement that would end the racial discrimination lawsuit.
"From everything that I've read, we will still maintain the current standards that we are holding to now," Brooks said. "So technically, even though the consent decree is done away with, we are going to keep positions that were mandated formerly. We're going to keep data that was required formerly. We're going to keep doing those things, yes."
TPD field interviews,
by race, 2007-09
|Race|| Number interviewed|
|American Indian ||270|
Curtis Killman 581-8471
Officer Mark Sole gives a warning to a man for panhandling near 61st Street and Riverside Drive. Tulsa police officers were required to note the race of everyone they stopped in accordance with terms of a consent decree that followed a racial discrimination lawsuit. ZACH GRAY / Tulsa World
Officer Mark Sole gives a warning to a man for panhandling near 61st Street and Riverside Drive on Friday. ZACH GRAY / Tulsa World