Police will launch program to collect racial data at stops
On July 15, the Denver Police Department will roll out a pilot project for collecting racial and ethnic data on people its officers decide to stop.
The pilot project, which has been two years in the making, will take place in District 2, which covers the northeast side of the city. Officers will be required to fill out electronic forms that will describe the reason they stopped a person, what race or ethnicity they believed the person to be, how long the stop lasted and other information, said Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum’s Denver chapter.
“What we’re looking to measure is an officer’s perception in initiating a contact,” Calderon said. “What’s in the officer’s mind?”
City officials and community activists who worked on the project introduced it Tuesday night during a community meeting in Park Hill, one neighborhood where the project will be tested. The pilot program will last three months, and then officials will evaluate how it went and make changes they believe are necessary, said Nick Mitchell, Denver’s independent monitor. The racial data collection will become mandatory for every officer on Denver’s police force who makes decisions on whether to stop someone — whether in traffic or after seeing them walk down the street.
The data collection is important because so many of the city’s black, Latino and American Indian residents complain about unfair treatment from police officers.
It is one of the most frequent complaints his office receives, said Mitchell, who serves as a police watchdog. But there is no data to determine whether those perceptions are true.
The city is working with the Center for Policing Equity, an independent research group that analyzes racial data from police departments to help them improve community relations. The center will produce regular reports on its findings, and Mitchell said researchers in his office also will analyze data to measure how Denver’s police officers biases and help them improve their response to people they serve. All reports will be public.
Denver will become the first major police department in Colorado to collect racial and ethnic data on its officers’ stops. The city conducted a similar program about 15 years ago, but officials determined there were no issues among the police force and ended it.
The latest project has been in the works for years, and the Denver Police Department hasn’t always been receptive to the idea. When the Colorado General Assembly in 2015 considered a bill that would have made racial data collection mandatory for law enforcement statewide, Deputy Chief Matt Murray testified against it.
The city’s Department of Safety also has bristled at criticism from the city auditor, who has recommended the data collection to improve transparency and get in line with national best practices for police.
Chief Robert White ultimately decided the data collection was the right thing to do, and he agreed to include community activists who demanded a seat at the table.
On Tuesday, White, Murray and Stephanie O’Malley, the former safety director who initiated the project, embraced the data collection. They said the department had cooperated with its critics to develop a program that best suits the city’s residents and its officers.
The project won’t be used to punish officers but will be a tool for improving their interaction with residents, said O’Malley, who has continued working on the project even though she no longer is safety director.
“The one thing we all agreed upon was this was not going to be a gotcha moment,” she said. “We all want to learn from this.”
Murray and other commanders had been concerned about how much time officers would spend filling out forms after stops because it would take them out of service for answering other calls. But the leaders believe the electronic data forms, with 34 fields, will not be too time consuming.
“We’re fully expecting we’ll learn some things,” Murray said. “We’re committed. We’re listening. We’re nimble.”