Data reveal more racial disparities

Blacks still overrepresented in jail bookings, police stops
by: KYLE GREEN, In 2006, 21.8 percent of people booked into Multnomah County jails were black, though blacks make up only 5.7 percent of the county’s population.

It's a hard thing sometimes to stop running in a circle.

Data released by one local law-enforcement agency or another shows that people of color - and blacks in particular - are overrepresented relative to their percentage of the population. Hand-wringing ensues, with the agency getting a talking-to from segments of the community it protects.

Everybody pledges to talk, to work it out.

Then more data comes out showing the same thing. And the circle starts turning all over again.

At a time when Mayor Tom Potter's office is looking more closely at racial profiling through a committee he formed on the subject, new jail-booking data from the Multnomah County sheriff's office and Portland police bicycle and pedestrian stops data show that the issue persists.

But that does not mean that there is no hope.

'Right now we have the right people in place to make positive change,' said Maria Rubio, Potter's policy manager for public safety and security. 'We have, I think, the political will. The right mayor. The right police chief. And the right attitude in the community to get something done.'

The data is a regular reminder of how far there is still to go.

Blacks make up 6.2 percent of Portland's population and 5.7 percent of Multnomah County's population, according to a 2005 U.S. Census estimate. Yet they made up 21.8 percent of people booked into the county's jails in 2006, according to sheriff's office records. The same data show that blacks also stay in county jails longer than whites, by an average of more than three days.

In the Portland police data, from 2006, 24 percent of bicycle and pedestrian stops were of blacks.

Portland police also disproportionately stopped blacks who were walking or bicycling in every one of the city's five precincts, according to the data. In Northeast Precinct, where the population is 23 percent black, 47 percent of the people stopped while walking or on a bicycle were black. In Central Precinct, where 2 percent of the population is black, blacks accounted for 25 percent of stops.

By percentage points, the smallest statistical overrepresentation occurred in Southeast Precinct. There, 2 percent of the population is black, and blacks represented 8 percent of bicycle and pedestrian stops.

City's heard this before

Not that any of that is new.

Last May, Chief of Police Rosie Sizer released data showing racial disparities in traffic stops. In June came data from the sheriff's office detailing racial disparities in booking data. Those two reports only built on years of frustration and similar numbers coming out of every local law-enforcement agency.

'There comes a point where it's just, 'Enough,'' said Alejandro Queral, executive director of the nonprofit Northwest Constitutional Rights Center and a member of the mayor's committee.

Sizer was unavailable for comment for this story. But in past interviews and in public City Council testimony, she said she would not try to deny racial profiling because the data showed it happened.

She also said it would be a disservice to her officers to jump to conclusions about the data. And she has resisted efforts to break down the numbers to show which cops stop or arrest the most minorities, fearing that the data would be distorted.

Sheriff: Some want attention

The police bureau maintains that the pedestrian and bicycle stops data show only people whom cops had a reason to stop.

And there is other data that show, from the perspective of some officers, the reason they deal so often with blacks.

One Portland cop collected data on certain violent crimes from 1985 to 1999, which showed that blacks were wildly overrepresented as victims.

Sheriff Bernie Giusto said the high percentage of blacks as victims of crime in part drove the disparity in the criminal justice system.

Of particular concern to Giusto, he said, were data showing a 3.4 percent increase in the number of blacks being booked into jail on felony charges.

'It's something we should look at with an eye toward reducing it,' he said. 'Whatever we're doing isn't working when the numbers go up.'

Rubio, also Potter's liaison to the police bureau, said the mayor believed that racial profiling occurred, though it was limited to a small number of officers who do it unintentionally and is a sign of an overall cultural disconnect between cops and citizens.

'It doesn't make him very popular in some circles, but that's how he feels,' she said. 'And if people are willing to be open about this, we can finally go a long way toward reducing racial profiling and the perception thereof.'

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