Racial-Profiling Study Liberated

Linda O'Brien, Aimee Artiles, Tom Guilfoyle, and Ken Drucker are all pleasant, generally helpful and professional county bureaucrats. Their jobs, respectively, are police spokeswoman, county spokeswoman, police attorney, and assistant county attorney. This past week these poor folks endured incessant badgering from this newspaper because their bosses tried to ignore an inconvenient state law. The American Civil Liberties Union very nearly had to file a public-records lawsuit on behalf of New Times in order to compel the county to hand over a study on the racial profiling of Miami-Dade motorists by county cops. County manager George Burgess and police director Robert Parker finally released the report this past Friday afternoon, just as Florida ACLU executive director Howard Simon and litigation chief Randall Marshall were preparing for court.

The study was conducted by the Alpert Group, a research firm hired at the behest of the county commission to analyze police behavior during traffic stops. This followed a series of local town-hall meetings in late 2000 on the issue of racial profiling sponsored by Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. The testimony of African-American residents about their experiences led the commissioner to propose an independent study, which her colleagues approved.

The Alpert Group collected detailed information about thousands of traffic stops made by Miami-Dade police officers in 2001. Officers were required to fill out a form indicating why a stop was made, the race of the driver, and other information. Student volunteers also rode along with many officers to provide observer reports of traffic stops. Researchers finished their report and handed it over to the department in November 2004.

Yet as of April 7, when New Times's Tristram Korten wrote about the study ("The Long Silence"), the police department still had not made it public. This five-month delay irritated members of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board, which had been created to allow the community some input into the process. New Times was unable to acquire a copy of the report even though it was a public record. Police officials claimed the report wasn't ready for release. Neither Parker nor assistant director J.D. Patterson returned phone calls requesting an explanation.

After reading the story, Commissioner Barbara Jordan sent Burgess a memo requesting a copy of the report, but even she was denied a peek at it. The manager's office told Jordan the county's contract with the Alpert Group required that the report be presented to the advisory board before becoming public. Jordan, a veteran county bureaucrat prior to being elected last year, was skeptical and decided to check with the county attorney's office. "The [New Times] article clearly demonstrated that [the study] found disparate treatment," she said. "I want to know to what extent. I need the chief to tell me how he is going to remedy this, to ensure this does not happen."

This past week New Times again requested the report but was denied by the police and the county manager's office. Assistant county attorney Ken Drucker, however, said he had advised police department attorney Tom Guilfoyle that he should explain in writing why the document could not be released, otherwise the department should give it up immediately. Guilfoyle agreed with Drucker's assessment. (A subsequent close read of the actual contract revealed no basis for the county's foot-dragging.) However, Guilfoyle still couldn't make it public. "I can't give it to you now," he said this past Wednesday afternoon. "The only person who has it is [assistant director] J.D. Patterson, and he's not in the office right now." On Thursday Guilfoyle said the department had decided to release the report Friday morning. At last the study was freed from its bureaucratic bondage.

A review of the 217-page study offered no clear explanation for the department's intransigence. The report found, in general, there was little correlation between a motorist's race and his or her being stopped by an officer. A few officers did disproportionately stop and search black drivers, but officers mostly were stopping people based on behavior rather than appearance. (Click here for the full report.)

But the study clearly showed that after drivers were stopped, there were differences in how individuals were treated. Black motorists were more likely to be searched than whites or Hispanics, although they were much less likely to be found with contraband during searches. Blacks were twice as likely as whites or Hispanics to be arrested following a traffic stop, partially owing to outstanding warrants. Blacks also were more likely to be issued citations, to have their records checked, and to have their cars towed.

The police department held a press conference May 2, trotting out Geoffrey Alpert and Robert Parker to answer questions about the report. Parker was asked repeatedly why his department hadn't released the study this past November, after Alpert submitted it. He admitted nothing had changed in the five months it sat on the shelf, but was otherwise vague. "The good news is there is no smoking gun of racial profiling," he said. "Had there been an urgent issue in the report, I would have made an issue of releasing it sooner.... Perhaps the media pushing us to release it is a good thing -- and you can quote me on that."

 
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