Ottawa diversity group backs profiling study
BY JOHN AGAR, KEN KOLKER, AND THERESA MCCLELLAN
The leader of an Ottawa County ethnic diversity group said area police departments should conduct racial profiling studies similar to the one in Grand Rapids that showed black men are more likely to be stopped by police than white men.
“I believe strongly that racial profiling should be investigated in every department,” said Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.
“Until we look at the data, and do evaluation of the practices, we’re aren’t going to know.”
She lauded Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan for conducting the study. Without such studies, police and organizations such as Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance often have “simply anecdotal” evidence to say whether or not racial profiling exists, she said.
“If there isn’t a problem, that will become more evident,” Harrison said. “A refusal brings more divisiveness. Let the data speak for itself. I applaud the Grand Rapids Police Department and Chief Dolan. It opens a dialogue.”
The issue of racism has taken the forefront in recent months in Ottawa County, with an Ottawa Area Summit on Racism scheduled for Feb. 13. Racial profiling is an issue that should be explored by police agencies, Allegan County Sheriff Blaine Koops said.
He said that he would consider at some point conducting a study similar to the one in Grand Rapids. Koops, who took office Jan. 1, has already begun a study by Grand Valley State University to examine the sheriff’s department and to improve service.
No particular incident in Allegan County led to his concerns. He has told deputies his expectations, and warned that racial profiling won’t be accepted.
“I think we all should be concerned about it,” Koops said. “Racial profiling bothers me. Profiling as far as what a drug running may look like, that’s another whole issue. But I do not like profiling in reference to ethnicity or gender. If a violator is violating, the citation should be issued.”
Since he has been on the job less than a month, Koops said it is too early to say when the sheriff’s department would consider such a study. He said it was his job to set the tone for his agency.
Holland Police Chief John Kruithoff said he has no plans to conduct a racial profiling study involving Holland police officers.
“No one has come here complaining, and I have not received any requests that we do this,” he said.
Kruithoff said he doesn’t take the issue of racial profiling lightly, however.
Last April, he issued a training bulletin to all his staff, notifying them that the Holland Police Department had adopted a philosophy developed by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. The policy states that officers must not make any contact with the public based on racial profiling and must be able to give reasons for making a traffic stop.
He said officers face discipline if they make a stop based on racial bias.
Kruithoff said he thinks the diversity of the department, which has several minority officers, has helped foster good relations with the public.
In Grand Haven, the Department of Public Safety has no plans to conduct a racial profiling study. Officials said the department has not received such complains about officers.
Grand Rapids City Commission Rick Tormala on Tuesday urged Mayor John Logie to encourage police in suburban departments to conduct studies similar to the report just released by the Grand rapids Police Department.
The Grand Rapids study of nearly 6,600 traffic stops found that more than a third of the motorists pulled over in the city during a three-month period last year were black, though police and experts cautioned against jumping to any conclusions.
Tormala said some residents seem to have more trouble in suburban cities, though he didn’t name them.
“A couple of communities come to mind,” Logie responded. “but we won’t name them.”
At least three suburban police chiefs – in Wyoming, Kentwood and Walker – said they have done their own racial profiling studies, though none was nearly as extensive as the study done by Grand Rapids.
Like Grand rapids, the suburban communities found that minorities represented a higher percentage of traffic stops than their percentage of the population in general.
Kentwood has video cameras on 14 cars or nearly two/thirds of its cars, said Kentwood Police Chief Richard Mattice.
His department started tracking three months of traffic stops last March.
“With our understanding of the concerns by the broader community and the national community of this issue, this (tracking) is the right thing to do to examine the issue,” Mattice said. His department started tracking information even before Grand Rapids though Kentwood’s analysis was not as extensive.”
“We’ve got a lot of traffic and we are traffic-oriented department. We’re trying to understand what the numbers mean,” he said.
“The numbers show that minorities are disproportionately stopped,” he said.
Mattice noted that the city issued a “strong directive” last February that racial profiling would not be tolerated.
The estimated black population is 7.3 percent in Kentwood but blacks made up 16.3 percent of those stopped.
Wyoming and Walker police said they have spot-checked traffic tickets, which include the race and genders of motorists, and the chiefs said the results don’t concern them.
“What I wanted to do was I wanted to have some idea about what we were doing,” said Wyoming Chief Ed Edwardson, adding he didn’t tell the officers until later. “I told them we were looking at the data because this was becoming an issue that was being discussed and debated across the country.”
Wyoming patrol captain John Lind said he spot-checks a week’s worth of tickets at a time and has probably done that a half dozen times over the last two years. He emails the results to the chief, so no formal reports are available, he said.
Edwardson said the surveys are always about the same – about 70 percent of the people stopped are white, 10 to 14 are black, 10 to 14 percent are Hispanic and about 2 percent are Asian.He said he didn’t study the rates of searches and arrests.
The U.S. Census in 1990 – the latest available – shows the city was 92 percent white, 2.7 percent black and 3.5 percent Hispanic.
Walker Police Chief Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom said she started the spot-checks of officer’ log books in April of 2000, a month after she took over the department. “Surprisingly in the city of Walker, racially speaking, the numbers are almost non-existent,” she said.
She said the percentage of blacks pulled over has never topped 12 percent. The census showed that just 182 blacks living in Walker in 1990, about 1 percent of the population.
Gracia-Lindstrom said she hasn’t received any “Driving White Black” complains in her tenure there.
Grandville Police Chief Vern Snyder said he would consider a similar study. He was planning first to examine the results in Grand Rapids and Kentwood.
“We are not a very diverse community, but with (Int.) 196 and with the new mall, we have a diverse customer base,” said Synder, referring to RiverTown Crossings mall. “I would be interested in seeing some of the things it would show us.”