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Cincinnati traffic stops to get in-depth review after WCPO uncovers growing racial disparity

City manager: Time, money and manpower is needed
Posted: 1:26 PM, Jan 09, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-09 18:31:28Z

CINCINNATI -- It's going to take time, money and manpower for the city to figure out whether any police officers might be racially profiling black drivers, a major focus of a landmark 2002 agreement on police-community relations but one that fell by the wayside four years ago.

City Manager Harry Black isn't sure yet exactly how long or how much it will take. At a minimum, he said he thinks the city needs to hire at least one dedicated staffer and likely bring in an outside contractor to help with some of the work. Black said he hopes to have a better handle on costs and a timeline when he sends his annual budget proposal to Mayor John Cranley and City Council in a few months.

"I don't even think it's a choice," Black said. "If we're going to continue abiding by the terms of the Collaborative (Agreement), it's something we have to do."

Community leaders are working with the city right now to "refresh" the Collaborative Agreement , and they hope to avoid a similar lapse in the future. The Collaborative, supervised by a federal court judge and cited by Cincinnati's police and community leaders as key to reducing crime, was a major shift in how the city approached law enforcement . A critical component was a regular, exhaustive review of traffic stops to spot any patterns of possible racial bias. The idea was to give the police department an early warning about any problems before they became bigger patterns of discrimination.

"Proactively reinstating this system is indicative of our ongoing commitment to uphold the spirit of the Collaborative Agreement and part of our efforts to refresh this historic accord," Cranley said in a statement. "It is also another great example of our city utilizing data to support transparency and good government."

During the mid- and late 2000s, the city hired the RAND Center on Quality Policing to do the analysis. In 2011, the police department brought the work in house -- for a year anyway. It ended in 2012, under then-Chief James Craig.

Since then, although officers are conducting far fewer traffic stops, an I-Team investigation found more and more of the people they pull over are black -- growing to 63 percent of all people stopped in a city where about 44 percent of residents are black.

 

Because there's been no structured review in more than four years, city officials couldn't say whether any officers engage in racial profiling.

"We had a process in place for monitoring that," said civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who helped negotiate the Collaborative. "There's no reason it should have been abandoned."

 

The analysis isn't simple or quick, Black warned; high costs led the prior administration to end the program.

He thinks the city's Office of Performance and Data Analytics can do much of the work in house for less money, he told WCPO. Chief Performance Officer Leigh Tami and Chief Data Officer Brandon Crowley, along with other staff, will start work later this month to get a better handle on what they can do, and which parts of the review need outside experts.

Black said it will be "one of the more complex" projects the office has undertaken since he created it two years ago.

"I can tell you today we're going to have to beef up the staff," he said.

IN DEPTH: System to spot racial bias quietly slips by wayside

For each year of data RAND analyzed, there were several officers who stopped substantially more black drivers than their peers patrolling the same times and places. It's important to do an apples-to-apples comparison, experts say, to account for the ever-changing nature of who's on the street in different neighborhoods at different times of day. For example, it would do no good to compare two officers in District Two if one patrolled Hyde Park during the daytime and the other patrolled Madisonville in the evening.

That's what makes the work so complex.

"This is precision-oriented analytics," Black said.

In a memo he sent to Cranley and City Council on Friday, Black outlined some of what will go into the review:

  • the drivers' race
  • time of day they were stopped
  • location of the stops
  • how long drivers were stopped
  • how often drivers are searched
  • how often contraband is found during a search
  • how often drivers are cited

"Reestablishing this...is essential to maintaining overall police community relations," Black wrote.

Making the racial disparity 'front and center'

Fatal police shootings involving black men around the country, including the killing of Samuel DuBose by then-University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing -- prompted community and city leaders to start revisiting the Collaborative Agreement last year. Court supervision of the agreement ended in August 2008, and many people felt the deal needed a top-to-bottom review to figure out what was still working and what needed to change.

"At least in the latest draft, I've asked that the first thing we tackle is the racial disparity," Gerhardstein said. "I think that's front and center."

A Manager's Advisory Group of police, community and faith leaders still meets regularly, but Gerhardstein said it needs more structure instead of dealing with issues as they pop up. In updating the Collaborative, Gerhardstein said they're planning to add a more formal review of critical stats -- including racial disparities, use of force, and injuries to citizens and officers during arrests -- to the regular meetings.

"I think that'll help a great deal," he said.

Soon, the public can take a look at more police statistics themselves: Data on arrests, traffic stops, traffic citations and all other stops and citations will soon go onto the city's open data portal.