The Louisville Metro Police Department will conduct a study to determine if officers are racially profiling residents when making traffic stops.
During the Metro Council budget hearings, Police Chief Steve Conrad testified that since being sworn-in he has been asked at several community meetings if officers pull over African-Americans more than whites.
Before city and county governments merged, the old city collected data on the race of individuals who were pulled over or detained, but quit analyzing the data after a few years.
Conrad requested the study because he believes that officers do not profile based on race, but the department lacks any information to support that statement.
“I am thoroughly convinced that the Louisville Metro Police Department does not racially profile. That we stop cars and stop citizens based on reasonable suspicious, which is the lawful standard that is required to stop an individual,” he says. “But I don’t have the information that I need to be able to demonstrate to anybody in the community that what I’m saying is true. I believe it, but I can’t show it.”
According to records from Metro Corrections, black males represented 43.6 percent of bookings in 2011 despite being 9.9 percent of the city's population.
Attorney Elizabeth Jones is an assistant Pan-African Studies professor at the University of Louisville. She says the study is needed and is encouraged the chief has taken resident's concerns seriously.
“The chief can believe officers don't racially profile, but like he said there's no data to back that up,” she says. “I’ve seen numbers that show that even though African-Americans are a minority in terms of the population of Louisville Metro, in some instances they comprise the majority of particular types of arrests. There is definitely disproportionate numbers of African-Americans being arrested in the city of Louisville.”
Incarceration numbers from corrections show African-Americans makeup a higher number of detentions for drug possession. Census data shows blacks are 20.8 percent of the Louisville population, but last year they were 68 percent of the bookings for cocaine possession.
“This has been the history of police departments for decades and this is nothing new,” says Jones. “Particularly how the War on Drugs and changes in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence really contributed to the ability of law enforcement to in effect round people up in poor communities of color.”
Racial profiling has once again become a topic nationally among civil rights advocates due to the New York City Police Department's controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy. The practice has been defended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to crackdown on gun violence, but the ACLU has raised serious questions due to the high number of blacks and Hispanics being detained.
In a telephone interview with WFPL, Conrad pointed to mistrust of police in certain Louisville neighborhoods as a reason to launch the study.
The chief said in order to effectively combat the rash of shootings, it is important police create better partnerships with residents and if the study shows a pattern of bias he will take immediate action.
“If the study were to show we have problems with racial profiling, first, if a specific officers is identified as taking part in those efforts we would make sure those officers had the proper training. And if an investigation showed they had in fact violated our policies, we'd take appropriate disciplinary action,” he says. “On a broader approach, if the study shows we have those problems on a large scare we will follow-up with training for the entire department to make sure officers do have information to properly do their jobs.”
The study is estimated to cost around $55,000 and could begin later this year.