Mayor's plan will gather race data

"Less paperwork and less burdensome" is how Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske summed up Mayor Greg Nickels' plan for addressing the use of racial profiling by the Police Department.

The mayor's plan, released yesterday, dramatically scales back a City Council proposal that would have required officers to fill out a race-based questionnaire after every traffic stop. The plan will take effect as soon as details are worked out.

Officers will now complete a shorter form than the one the council had proposed, and only when they do “contact” traffic stops — which happens about 36,000 times a year. Officers will be required to identify themselves by including their badge number, a controversial issue within the department.

Under the council plan, officers would have generated three times as much paperwork, but the questionnaire would not have asked them to identify themselves.

The mayor also called for, but has yet to fund, digital video cameras in all patrol vehicles. His plan mandates quarterly community forums in each police precinct, "race" discussions between citizens and police advisory councils, and updated racial-sensitivity training for officers. A community member also is to be added to the panel that selects new police officers and to a panel that is to select a consultant to interpret the traffic-stop data.

Previous data indicated blacks were being ticketed at a disproportionate rate compared to whites. Under Nickels' plan, such data will continue to be crunched on a continuing basis.

"This will be a quantitative and qualitative look," Nickels said of his plan. "We're acknowledging disproportionality and we're trying to put together a response."

The data collected on police stops may not definitively answer whether racial profiling occurs in Seattle, Nickels said earlier this month when he declined to support the council plan.

How officers will respond to the new form and to the requirement to include their badge number is not known. Some officers and City Council members had suggested that some officers might make fewer stops if they thought the information could be used against them.

Such data, which would be subject to public disclosure, could lead to potential harassment of an officer, police have warned. Names, for example, could be published on a Web site. Or the data could be used to supplement a legal case brought against an officer.

The form officers will now use should seem somewhat familiar to them: Officers already include the information when they issue citations.

Of the additional forms, which officers will now fill out even if a citation isn't issued, Kerlikowske said, "This is a small area which we didn't have a written record for. This increases accountability."

Police accountability, especially when it comes to the public's perception of racial profiling, was at the root of proposed data collection nearly two years ago.

The Police Department had maintained data already were being analyzed. Community leaders and City Council members argued that more data should be collected and analyzed more thoroughly.

Nickels said his plan will allow data to be referenced if a complaint is filed. The city will be able to determine which neighborhoods experience the most stops.

The preliminary cost of Nickels' plan is $200,000, not including the cost of the squad cameras — which could run as much as $1 million. The city will try to get the federal funds for them.

Councilman Jim Compton, who wrote the council plan, applauded the enhanced training measures and the measures to increase police and community dialogue. But he questioned what the final cost will be. He said the plan also lacks specifics on how traffic-stop data would be analyzed.

Vanessa Lee of the People's Coalition for Justice commended Nickels for taking steps to address police accountability. But she, too, questioned how thoroughly the data would be analyzed.

"If it's just going to be stuck somewhere in a file it's not really going to do much good," she said.

Lee was among 23 people who picketed City Hall on Wednesday. The protest turned into a five-hour sit-in at the mayor's office. She and others who had demanded to meet with the mayor to ask about policing were arrested but not cited.

Florangela Davila can be reached at 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com.