NEW NUMBERS released by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) on July 1 show no change in the apparent disparity between African American drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists stopped by police over the past year compared to whites.
In 2007, African Americans still made up 24 percent of pedestrians and bicyclists stopped by police, and 14 percent of traffic stops—the same exact percentages released by the PPB for 2006—while African Americans make up 6.6 percent of Portland's population.
Meanwhile, for more than a year the mayor's racial profiling committee has been meeting with the goal of "eliminating racial profiling" by police—but they haven't made a dent in the problem.
The racial profiling committee was sparsely attended at its most recent meeting on Thursday, July 17, following a supposedly energizing retreat at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel last month—leaving its members to ponder the committee's long-term viability.
While the committee was originally convened in January 2007 to eradicate racial profiling, it has now agreed on three more modest goals for the next six months: to review the bureau's "hit rate" for racial profiling statistics, to create small-group opportunities for positive interactions between police and community, and to build a "customer service culture in PPB."
"I was quite disappointed with the end result [of the retreat], quite frankly," said the committee's co-chair, Jo Ann Bowman of Oregon Action, at last week's meeting. "If we only do these two or three things over the next six months, it's going to take us 100 years to fix the racial profiling problem in Portland. If that's where we're going to put all our focus for the next six months, it's not going to change a thing on the street."
Bowman's frustration appeared to in turn frustrate the committee's facilitator, Kristin Lensen, and the pair of them stepped out into the Emmanuel Temple Church's parking lot for a 10-minute break, which—judging from their body language, viewed by this reporter through the church's glass doors—appeared to involve a fairly frank exchange of views.
Such lowly ambitions appear to have stuck a pin in the committee's enthusiasm: About half of the committee members showed up for the meeting last week, and frustrations ran high. Notable absences included Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Portland Police Association boss Robert King.
"I agree with Jo Ann, there's other stuff that needs to be accomplished," said committee member and Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "The Chief [Sizer] gave us [an initial] plan last year, and I want to see that plan on the table, saying, 'This is what we've done so far, and this is what we still need to do.' I think that'll help us in terms of what we've accomplished."
Carl Goodman, assistant director of the county's Department of Community Justice, and one of the few committee members to attend last week's meeting, asked if the new goals were "going to get at this racial profiling issue. Or is this just whitewashing to get things moving?"
Meanwhile Maria Rubio, the mayor's director of public safety policy, said she thought the retreat had achieved its goal of "narrowing the committee's focus."
Committee member Officer Deanna Wesson agreed, saying she thought the retreat narrowed the committee's focus to things it "can actually achieve."
Bowman, who raised the possibility of a class-action lawsuit after last month's retreat, said mandates for the police bureau would be more likely to change officers' behavior on the street. She said she wanted officers to be forced to give out their business cards after interacting with people, for example, something she's been requesting for two years.
"So these are the things that are frustrating me," she said. "When I look at what's happening on the streets and what we're doing here, there's a disconnect. And I don't see that what we've taken on will get us there.
"I went into the retreat being pretty optimistic that we'd come out with a plan that would impact officers' behavior," Bowman later told the Mercury. "And now I see we have this touchy-feely approach to the problem. And if that is where we are going to focus for the next year, then that doesn't feel like a good use of my time."