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Minneapolis, Minn. — In September the Council on Crime and Justice released the results of a study of racial traffic stop data from 65 juridsictions across the state. The data found that in 2002 people of color were more likely to be stopped and searched by police officers than white drivers.
Minneapolis was among the communities with a reported disparity. Mayor R.T. Rybak says the report inspired the city to try to get to the bottom of the numbers.
"Reports in government can often sit on the shelf. A report that is as important as this one should never sit on the shelf. It should be implemented as honestly and directly and aggressively as we can. And that's why we're standing here today," Rybak told a news conference.
The city has formed an oversight committee to draft a set of fairness standards that will be used by an audit team. The committee is made up of city staff, community members and law enforcement officials. Members of the audit team will use those standards as they observe how police officers make decisions and as they examine police procedural manuals.
Police Chief Robert Olson says he hopes the outside review will provide a fresh perspective on how police officers do their jobs.
"A review like this, I think, will really give a view back to us, that we didn't see before. That's what I'm hoping will happen and that we will be able to do some substantive changes in how we do business. That will directly impact the disparity in the number of stops," he said.
This won't be the first time the Minneapolis police department has engaged in this kind of process. Several years ago the department was the subject of a domestic violence safety audit.
Council on Crime and Justice officials say that project helped the department improve the way it handled domestic dispute calls.
Researcher Jennifer Obinna says she hopes this study will yield similar results. "The whole idea around the methodology is to understand decision-making points. When an officer has discretion around traffic stops, we want to get a better handle on... are they just traffic-stopping in an area where they were called for a 911 call. Are they trying to fill some kind of quota?"
The Minneapolis police department has made efforts to address racial profiling over the years. They were one of the first departments in the state to voluntarily gather traffic-stop data. And the department recently updated it's anti-discrimnation policies.
However, some say the department hasn't done enough to combat biased policing. Michelle Gross, the head of Communities United Against Police Brutality, also serves as a member of an advisory panel for a different project by the Council on Crime and Justice. Gross says the audit will help reveal some of the discriminatory attitudes of police officers.
"I think they will find that there are some individual ... preconceived notions by police officers where ... a particular police officer is going to think that any black person driving a new car is somebody that ought to be stopped. I think they'll be some people that have those kinds of notions and so they'll be projecting those notions on to their traffic stops," she said.
Gross says she hopes that this project will lead to some substantial changes.
The Plymouth police department will also participate in the study. The Council on Crime and Justice estimates the fairness standards will be ready for auditors to use next October. The audit itself is expected to take one year.