Police Community Relations

THE PROBLEM

Thousands of African-American and Hispanic residents of our County experience being stopped by Police for things like –

  • Rolling stop
  • Failure to signal a turn or lane change
  • Light out or too dim on the license plate, or license plate border obscuring part of the license plate, or sticker in the wrong place on the license plate

We often perceive these stops to be “investigatory” - more about a desire on the part of the Officer to criminally investigate, than the reason provided for the stop. In fact, in many stories we’ve heard, a reason is never even provided. Sometimes we are asked intrusive questions– such as “Whose car is this?” or “What are you doing in this area?”

According to University of Kansas Professor Charles Epp, author of the book “Pulled Over,” these are likely stories of classic “investigatory stops.” In the book, Epp writes –

“Officers making investigatory stops commonly have decided to carry out a criminal investigation before they make the stop; they then identify, or create, a pretext to justify the stop.”

One big piece of the problem here in Palm Beach County is that our Sheriff’s Office and the majority of our Police Departments do not track all of the stops they make; therefore, there is no way currently to track if there is disparity in who they are stopping.

THE SOLUTION / WHERE WE ARE

Dr. Jack McDevitt from Northeastern University has years of experience working with Police Departments throughout the country on a process of data collection and analysis. Common things tracked include –

  1. Each and every stop (not just those in which citations are issued)
  2. The race / ethnicity of the person stopped
  3. The reason for the stop
  4. If a search was done – the reason for the search, and if contraband was recovered

Doing this, we believe, just makes sense. It establishes an early warning system to catch bias, allow supervisors to take action quickly; it stablishes trust with the community, because the simple ACT of collecting and analyzing the data is seen as a willingness to confront potential problems; and where the data shows there is no problem, it reassures the public that policing is being done fairly, and help protect Police from unfair accusations.

At our Nehemiah Action, we secured commitments from three Police Chiefs (West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, and Delray Beach) to attend a meeting with Dr. Jack McDevitt, and to consider a program of data collection and analysis.

STAY TUNED AS THIS EFFORT CONTINUES!