D.C. Police to Study Racial Profiling

March 31, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey met here yesterday with civil rights advisers and outlined his plans to begin collecting data for racial profiling studies that the advocates have requested, The Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, it’s a change of heart for Ramsey, who has been telling advocates for more than a year that he isn’t interested in joining the nationwide hunt for signs of racial profiling.

The change comes after a police department audit found that hundreds of the four million e-mail messages sent between patrol car computers were racist, sexist, homophobic or vulgar.

“We don’t know if he’s been pushed or if he was pulled, but it appears that this situation has rocked Chief Ramsey to the core,” said Johnnie Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area. “I don’t know what brought him along, but he’s been brought along,” Barnes said.

The ACLU has long advocated for a study of racial profiling in Washington, D.C.

“This was a major concession on his part,” said Mark Thompson, chairman of the NAACP’s local police task force. “It’s something we’ve been asking about for almost a year.”

In a prepared statement, Ramsey said: “In light of the recent audit I ordered of e-mail transmissions through our Mobile Digital Computers, and the subsequent discovery of offensive and racist messages, it is imperative that the MPD acknowledge that we have problems within our ranks that must be addressed. Whereas data collection itself is not a panacea, it will provide important insight into the daily activities of officers to ensure they are performing in a totally professional and impartial manner.”

Ramsey is running ahead of the bullet that has hit other police departments.

Thursday, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to require police to record the age, gender and race of drivers they stop for any reason, as part of a two-year study to gauge the magnitude of the problem.

Police in Montgomery County, Maryland are now required to collect such data after the settlement of a four-year civil rights probe by the Justice Department. Ramsey met with Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose to discuss the ways he has conducted that collection process.

Some of those who met with Ramsey yesterday, while pleased with his decision, expressed frustration that it took a large-scale revelation for him to accept their recommendations.

“These are the things that I’ve been telling the chief for years,” said Luis Cardona, who teaches sensitivity training to recruits at the police academy. “It bothers me that it takes a crisis for him to act on these things.”

Ramsey said he hasn’t established a time frame for the start of data collection. He’s still working out logistics to make it an effective analysis.

“Having people self-report on something like this is complicated,” Ramsey said, explaining that officers may not accurately report the race of the person who is stopped — intentionally or otherwise.

There has not been a push for the nation’s capital to begin collecting data because the population is majority-black, said Reginald Shuford, an attorney with the national ACLU and the national coordinator of the ACLU’s racial profiling litigation efforts.

In other words, it would make sense for the majority of drivers who are stopped to be black because it would reflect the city’s population.

Of the department’s 3,614 officers, 2,404, or 66.5 percent, are black; 1,001, or 27.7 percent, white; 176, or 4.8 percent, Hispanic; and 33, or 0.91 percent, Asian.

Ramsey said data collection may have to involve a third party and a survey of those people who are contacted by police.

“I always recognized the problem of racism in policing, but I did not believe that the MPD had the severity of problems found in other major city police departments. I was wrong,” Ramsey said. “Perhaps this incident will give us the courage to face this cancer head-on and come up with meaningful and permanent solutions.”

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