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Plan takes aim at racial profiling

Police chief and activists included in the effort, which yields a six-point agenda to fix problem
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Alejandro Queral, from the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, and Police Chief Rosie Sizer discuss ways to prevent racial profiling by police at one of the community meetings held over several months to gather recommend-ations.

Beginning Thursday, Jo Ann Bowman and Alejandro Queral hope to give Portlanders of color fewer reasons to distrust the police.

That day they plan to share with the City Council six recommendations created by a coalition of 21 groups -from cops to politicians to nonprofits to grass-roots activists - designed to curb racial profiling by police.

Bowman, of the nonprofit Portland group Oregon Action, and Queral, of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, will offer a report describing the problem and showing how the 21 groups arrived at their conclusions.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer already has shared her discomfort with one of the recommendations -collecting traffic-stop data on individual officers - but has said she remains open to the others.

'It is pretty risky to partner with the police department,' Bowman said of the Portland department's involvement in the several-monthslong process.

'Community organizations are really nervous about a direct partnership with the police,' she said. 'But we think we're at a point where we can really accomplish this. The question is whether we have the political will to get it done.'

Sizer and other police brass, as well as rank-and-file officers, have taken part in community listening sessions in May and June designed to help cops and citizens break down the wall that separates them on what has long been a divisive issue - whether police inappropriately rely on race in deciding to stop or search a person.

Sizer was at a conference in Boston last week and was unavailable for an interview for this story. But in an e-mail in June, after the process had begun, Sizer said the Portland Police Bureau needed such a partnership.

'I think it is important that we better connect police officers to the communities we serve,' she wrote. 'Police work can, at worst, reinforce negative stereotypes of all sorts. It is important for officers to learn more about the history and structure of neighborhoods and to have opportunity for positive relationships, particularly with communities of color.'

To improve those relationships, the 21 groups offered five more recommendations: the creation by the City Council of a commission to monitor data collection and review internal police policies no later than December; having the police bureau develop a written plan with community input no later than January to stop racial profiling; more community listening sessions; community-based education efforts to teach appropriate citizen behavior during traffic stops; and a coordinated effort by community organizations to help citizens file official complaints.

Sizer has said she is open to many of these ideas but wants to be sure her officers are properly protected.

'I think one thing that is important to acknowledge to police officers is that they are frequently the victims of negative stereotypes and that it hurts,' she wrote in the June e-mail. 'I think that it is important to acknowledge to police officers that they are frequently asked to do things (e.g., high-profile patrol activities to interdict gang violence) that will cause the numbers to be out of balance.'

The catalyst for Sizer's full involvement was the release in May of data from 2004 and 2005 showing that Portland cops stopped black drivers twice as often as whites and also searched them more frequently. The data also showed that white drivers were most likely to carry illegal items such as drugs.

Thus far, Portland's police union has not been involved. Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, has refused so far to meet with community groups, Bowman and Queral said. 'We invited the PPA to all the listening sessions, and they never showed up,' Queral said.

King said scheduling conflicts prevented anyone from the union attending the five listening sessions. And he said he was interested in hearing the full recommendations and having conversations about them, but has not yet met with organizers to do so. He opposes collecting traffic-stop data on individual cops, he said.

'I think it's important to note that Chief Sizer has made her opposition to that known as well,' he said.

Bowman said the union's involvement was crucial.

'The union has the power to block useful reforms,' she said. 'I hope that's not their intention, but they have the necessary political influence to stop the progress we're trying to make.'

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