Janice and Jhenita Whitfield were crossing the Western Slope, en route from San Diego to Denver, when they were pulled over for Driving While Black.
Jhenita had been living in California with her sister, an operations technician with the Navy, for seven months. Now, on this cold spring morning in 1989, she and her three young children were headed home, and Janice had taken a brief leave in order to help with the long drive.
Janice was behind the wheel of the green Subaru as it passed through Grand Junction on Interstate 70. On the eastern outskirts of town, traffic in the middle lane began to slow, and the sisters spotted an Eagle County Sheriff's Department cruiser parked on the shoulder. Janice checked her speed -- she was going under 60 miles per hour -- and passed the cruiser. Minutes later, in her rear-view mirror, she saw that the squad car was now following her.
The Subaru belonged to Jhenita. It was paid for, the insurance was current, and Jhenita had no outstanding tickets. Yet when Janice signaled and entered the left lane, so did the cruiser. When she signaled and returned to the center lane, so did the cruiser. Then the cruiser's lights started flashing, and the Whitfields were pulled over.
One of the two troopers in the cruiser, Sergeant James Perry, got out and approached the Subaru. Twice he asked Janice where she was going. Denver, she said. Twice. He took her license and Jhenita's registration and went back to his car to run them through his computer. When he returned, Perry asked Janice to step out of the car. Colorado's mountain counties were having problems with drugs from California being transported through the state, he explained. And the Subaru had California plates: Jhenita had bought the car in San Diego.
"There were people flying past, and they didn't get stopped," Janice Whitfield remembers. "I followed two cars from California, and they didn't get stopped."
But those other drivers were white.
The Whitfields are black, and now here was Perry asking if he could search the car. If they said no, Janice worried that the trip might be delayed -- she had only a few days to get to Denver and then fly back to San Diego with her young daughter, who was also in the car. But it was Jhenita's vehicle, so Jhenita had to decide whether to give permission for a search.
"If I say no now," Jhenita recalls thinking, "they may stop us farther down the road." So she consented -- as most people do when stopped by law-enforcement officers.
Perry signaled for the other officer to come help with the search. For the next 45 minutes, the Whitfield sisters and their kids stood in the cold by the side of the busy interstate. Cars whizzed by, sometimes spraying them with dirt. Jhenita's daughter, at age three the oldest of the children, was crying because she had to go to the bathroom and they were stuck on the shoulder.
Jhenita approached the second officer, who hadn't said a word so far, and asked why they had been stopped. He told her she fit the profile.
The officers made the Whitfields remove everything from the trunk, including three large suitcases and assorted baby supplies. They opened and searched the suitcases. They checked under the seats, in the glove compartment, in the ashtray. They pulled up the mats. They searched under the car. One officer stuck his hand in the empty tape player.
They found nothing. Janice was given a warning for making an illegal lane change (she'd failed to signal 200 feet before changing lanes, the deputies said), and the Whitfields were sent on their way.
As they drove away, Jhenita felt degraded. Later, she was furious. Later still, she began feeling paranoid -- a feeling that to this day she can't shake. Still a Denver resident, she no longer drives across state lines. On the occasional short trip to Black Hawk or Central City, she constantly checks her rear-view mirror. A few years ago, she even refused to fly out of state, missing her grandmother's funeral. She knows police are in the airport, she explains, "and they can stop me, and I can't do anything about it."
The Eagle County experience didn't shake Janice as much -- but the fact that she serves her country in the military made the law-enforcement stop especially galling. "I never thought I'd be a victim of profiling," she says. "I pay taxes. I didn't do anything wrong."
At a November hearing on a class-action suit that includes the Whitfields as plaintiffs, U.S. District Court Judge John Kane called racial profiling the major civil-rights issue of this millennium.
Yet racial profiling is hardly a new phenomenon. While the term's historic roots date to federal programs created in the '80s to ferret out drug traffickers along America's interstates, people of color say that law-enforcement authorities have been making selective stops based on nothing more than race for generations. Back in 1967, at hearings held by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, more than a hundred witnesses testified regarding the causes of the riots that had swept through American cities that summer; their testimony included complaints that African-Americans were being stopped in cars or on foot for no apparent reason -- other than the color of their skin.
But the practice of racial profiling didn't explode as a national scandal until 1999, with the release of a state report scrutinizing the behavior of the New Jersey State Police -- behavior that included the April 1998 shootings of three unarmed minority males by two state troopers. Just last November, the state of New Jersey released more than 90,000 pages of documents revealing, among other things, that 80 percent of the vehicles searched by state troopers along the New Jersey Turnpike over ten years were driven by black motorists, even though only 12.5 percent of the drivers were black -- a lopsided ratio that reportedly was no surprise to state law-enforcement officials.
Numerous other studies also suggest that profiling is real, and not just the paranoid perception of motorists of color. A 1994 federal court case against the Illinois State Police alleged that state troopers running a drug-interdiction program called Operation Valkyrie had targeted black and especially Hispanic drivers. According to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union, African-Americans accounted for less than 15 percent of the population in Illinois, but 23 percent of the total stops made by Valkyrie troopers. (In one district, where 24 percent of the local driving-age population was black, black motorists were the target of 63 percent of the searches.) Hispanics accounted for less than 8 percent of the state's population but 27 percent of the searches. Yet troopers found contraband in a lower percentage of vehicles driven by Hispanics than in cars driven by whites.
In 1992, after Maryland state troopers detained and searched a black attorney, who responded by filing a civil-rights lawsuit, the state police were ordered to maintain records on motorist searches. As part of the settlement, a study determined the race of every driver who passed a stretch of Interstate 95 over the course of about two days; of 5,742 drivers, 75.6 percent were white, 16.9 percent were black, and the rest represented other minority groups. Amazingly, 93.3 percent of all of the drivers were violating some traffic law and thus eligible to be stopped. (The percentages of white and black violators corresponded to the percentage of white and black drivers.) But out of a total of 823 motorists stopped during this period, minority drivers accounted for 80.3 percent. Although three-quarters of the drivers on that Maryland highway were white, they added up to less than 20 percent of the stops. Meanwhile, 600 black drivers -- 72.9 percent of the total -- were stopped.
As similar statistics cropped up across the country, Colorado began looking at its own profiling profile. Last September, Governor Bill Owens issued an executive order banning racial profiling across the state -- an order that affects the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the state's Department of Public Safety. According to the governor's chief counsel, Owens was motivated by the national studies, not by any problem peculiar to Colorado.
Democrat Peter Groff, a newly elected state representative from Denver, introduced a profiling bill in the state legislature this session. His measure would require the CBI to set up an 800 number that people could call with allegations of profiling; it also would require cities with more than 25,000 people to begin collecting data on traffic stops.
Denver already plans to do that starting June 1. Since Gerry Whitman's appointment as Denver's police chief was made permanent last July, the Denver Police Department has been working to improve its cultural sensitivity. The DPD already required officer recruits to take an eight-hour diversity-training class in the police academy; Whitman has added a second cultural-awareness program to the duty roster. This program is geared toward all officers on the force and will address both police interaction with the community and the department's internal interactions. Thirty-five officers have been selected to be trained as instructors; beginning in 2002, everyone in the department will go through the program.
"Police culture has something the community doesn't have," says Gary Graham, the DPD's director of training. "You have a sense of power over other people. How that power is used either makes us look good or bad." In the paramilitary structure of the department, he explains, there is little room for questioning orders. When that blunt approach is used with neighborhood residents, it rubs them the wrong way.
Denver's new diversity program was put together by Steve Hennessy, lead cultural trainer with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. For the last seven years, the IACP has conducted quarterly train-the-trainer workshops, teaching cultural awareness and cultural communication to hundreds of law-enforcement agencies. "Racial controversy is not new to law enforcement," Hennessy says. While understanding profiling requires proper training, he adds, "American police do not get enough credit for the phenomenal amount of positive interaction they have in minority communities."
The DPD hopes to take care of that, too, by holding a series of meetings to discuss profiling with residents of Denver's east and west sides. A study released by Northeastern University last summer made it clear that collecting the community's thoughts on profiling is important, says Captain Marc Vasquez, a Whitman aide who is pointman for the DPD's Racial Profiling Task Force.
"We are in no way saying the Denver Police Department engages in racial profiling," says Lieutenant Steve Carter, a task force member. But as long as citizens feel there is an overwhelming problem, "we are obligated to take action."
Thus far, that action has consisted largely of police officers, community leaders and residents trying to set the rules for the debate rather than engaging in the debate itself. And critics of the department, who anticipate another series of well-intended but useless "community meetings," charge that a police public-relations campaign isn't enough to fight the very real problem of profiling.
"Generally, most people acknowledge there is a problem of racial profiling here in Denver," says Terrance Carroll, who is forming a Denver chapter of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "I think the police are trying to get away with the least common denominator ...They won't acknowledge the extent of the problem. So their effort to take a proactive stand may just be preemptive to try and control the dialogue and direct the dialogue."
"We're at the table to stay," counters Sergeant Mike Anderson, the only black police officer at a December community meeting. "We're not at the table to admit to things we don't believe in. You don't start on a relationship by saying you've committed something you've not done. People with agendas are the ones expecting that to happen."
Denver police "feel trapped," says Detective John Wyckoff, a spokesman for the Denver Police Protective Association who attended one of the meetings. "We have to defend ourselves when we feel we've been doing a good job for a long time."
And since the best defense is a good offense, the DPD is pumping more money into training police officers and holding task force meetings with prominent Denver players to talk about racial profiling. So far, though, they can't even agree on whether profiling exists.
Although the extent of profiling in Denver is a matter of debate, there's no question that Eagle County used it as a law-enforcement tool.
The Eagle County Sheriff's Department created its Drug Task Force in 1987 to stem the flow of narcotics being transported along I-70. Like other law-enforcement agencies across the country, Eagle County received money and training from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which in the mid-'80s had created Operation Pipeline to intercept narcotics being moved on U.S. highways. Building on work done by state troopers in Florida, New Mexico and New Jersey, the feds developed a list of identifying characteristics for drug couriers. Most were based on signs of vehicles being driven hard and fast (fast-food wrappers in back, for instance) or trying to avoid scrutiny (radar detectors, CBs, darkened windows). But race and ethnicity quickly became factors as well.
Pipeline was, and still is, wildly successful. According to the ACLU, some 27,000 police officers in 48 states have been trained in how to use its profiles to intercept drug couriers. Between 1986 and September 2000, Pipeline operations seized 1.15 million kilograms of marijuana, 138,739 of cocaine, 901 of crack, 512 of heroin and 4,751 of methamphetamine, as well as $629 million in drug-forfeiture assets. And these numbers represent only 5 to 10 percent of the seizures, according to DEA spokesman Michael Chapman, since local law-enforcement agencies are not required to maintain statistics. Nor is there information on the percentage of stops that yield narcotics. Still, Chapman maintains that the figures are meaningful. "That's a lot of drugs taken out of the mainstream that would have harmed a lot of people," he says.
As state police were going after drug couriers on the highways, the federal War on Drugs was pouring even more money into the inner cities. Federal dollars flowed into these areas with the expectation of results (read: arrests), and inner-city drug users began filling federal prisons. According to the ACLU, African-Americans accounted for 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison -- even though they made up only 13 percent of the country's drug users.
According to the DEA's Web site, the agency's training "does not advocate...profiling by race or ethnic background," yet the site includes a section on known trafficking groups, almost all of them with roots in Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, Jamaica or the black criminal underworld of Southern California.
Racial and ethnic indicators come into play only when several other indicators are present, Chapman says, and when "you have a particular organization that has a particular ethnicity associated with it."
But others are more candid about the use of profiling.
"Right, wrong or otherwise, if we're going to devote any form of legal effort to stopping drugs, this is one of the tools," says David Brougham, the attorney who represented Eagle County through a long court battle over profiling. "If we're going to make a social decision to interdict, the reality is that couriers are almost all gang members or couriers out of South America." The DEA bulletins say as much, he adds.
When Eagle County's program first started, officers stopped motorists simply because they fit the profile -- 22 largely physical indicators, including vehicles with temporary plates, darkened windows or curtains, CB antennas, radar detectors, fast-food wrappers or "visible air fresheners" (which might mask the odor of narcotics), as well as race and ethnicity -- regardless of whether they'd violated any traffic laws. Eventually the Eagle County District Attorney's Office instructed the Drug Task Force that profile indicators alone were not enough to meet the reasonable-suspicion standard that permitted traffic stops -- a legal obstacle that law-enforcement agencies elsewhere were also encountering.
Officers quickly adapted, though, by flagging down motorists for any one of a slew of minor traffic violations -- technicalities, really. State statutes are loaded with obscure rules and regulations pertaining to automobiles. In Colorado, for instance, if visibility is not clear to 1,000 feet during the day, you must run with your headlights; cars must have a rear taillight to illuminate their license plate from a distance of fifty feet; vehicle tire tread depth must exceed two 32nds of an inch. Violate any of these, and you can be pulled over.
Such seldom-used rules gave rise to what is now known as a "pretext stop," when police officers stop a motorist for a minor violation when they're really only interested in uncovering narcotics. In 1996, pretext stops were challenged by Whren v. United States, but the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously allowed them, arguing that an officer's subjective state of mind or ulterior motive in making a stop was irrelevant if the officer had probable cause to believe a traffic violation had taken place.
The decision's critics argued that it essentially gave police officers a free pass to stop whomever they wanted -- and all too often, it seemed they wanted to stop people of color. Subsequent Supreme Court cases have strengthened the foundations that allow drug stops, as well as the racial profiling that frequently inspires them. In their 1996 ruling on Ohio v. Robinette, for example, Supreme Court justices determined that prior to asking their consent for a search, officers do not have to inform stopped drivers that they are free to go.
In fact, just two weeks ago, the Colorado State Patrol pulled over two Hispanic motorists traveling east on I-70 near Frisco for weaving and failing to use their turn signals. The driver of the 1990 Toyota pickup consented to a search by officers, who were accompanied by a K-9 dog. The search revealed seventy pounds of cocaine hidden in the bed of the pickup; its street value is estimated at $4 million. Both the driver and passenger were charged with possession of cocaine and intent to distribute, and are being held at Summit County jail.
The arrest was not a case of profiling, CSP spokesman Rob Marone insists; the men were not pulled over because they were Hispanic. Nor was the traffic stop a pretext to search for drugs, he says, adding that it's "very common" for state troopers to pull over motorists for weaving and failing to use a turn signal. (Why a driver would weave while carrying seventy pounds of cocaine is another story.)
Eagle County's profiling practices came under scrutiny in 1989, following the March arrest of Louis Laymon, an African-American traveling in a car with California plates. Although Laymon wasn't driving, the driver was also black, and he was pulled over for weaving (subsequent testimony did not convince a judge that the driver actually was in violation). Laymon consented to a search that turned up three pounds of cocaine, according to Eagle County attorney Brougham -- and proof that the racial component of the profile was legitimate.
Attorney David Miller, and eventually the ACLU, sued the county on Laymon's behalf; in the process of pursuing that action, they discovered the county's extensive use of profiling and decided that a class-action suit was called for. According to county records, some 389 motorists had been stopped between August 30, 1988, and August 30, 1990; most were black or brown, although some whites were also stopped if they looked like hippies. In the majority of those cases, no drugs were found.
Most of the stops were made by James Perry, then a sergeant with the sheriff's department. Although Perry subsequently testified that of all the stops he'd made between August 1988 and May 1989, only 15 percent involved Hispanic drivers, it turned out that 50 percent of Perry's consent-to-search forms were signed by motorists with Spanish surnames. (Perry chalked this up to coincidence.)
While Laymon and the Whitfields were easy to find, tracking down other potential plaintiffs wasn't easy, Miller says. The Eagle County Drug Task Force kept poor records, so he conducted driver's-license and license-plate searches; he even resorted to advertising in USA Today. When Miller ultimately filed a class-action suit against the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in U.S. District Court in 1990, it included thirty plaintiffs.
After years of debate and discovery, that suit was settled in October 1996. The settlement agreement prohibited the Eagle County Sheriff's Department from conducting any traffic stop unless an officer had reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred or was occurring; the department also agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement to the plaintiff class. Since only a handful of the original plaintiffs could still be located, however, those the court could find were each given $2,500, and the rest of the settlement money, around $600,000, was set aside for distribution to nonprofit organizations. (The ACLU was not eligible.)
The suit was settled, but how to spend that money was not. For the last four years, both sides have been fighting over the use of the settlement funds.
When Miller proposed sending the money to two civil-rights organizations located out of state, the court insisted that the money remain in Colorado. The plaintiffs' attorneys then suggested creating a permanent civil-rights training institute at the University of Denver law school, and DU pledged to commit another $200,000 to that program.
The defendants, however, wanted the money channeled into law-enforcement training. Although diversity is mentioned in the certification process outlined by the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board, the state agency that oversees police training, at the local level no real diversity training is provided or required. "If we use this money to educate law enforcement," argued Brougham, "we won't have lawsuits and won't need lawyers."
But Miller didn't like that idea, either. "For the defendants to violate constitutional rights and reap the benefits is unconscionable," he told the court.
In May 1998, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch rejected both proposals and requested that the Faculty of Federal Advocates, a group of attorneys who practice in the federal courts, meet with both sides to work out a compromise. The plaintiffs were still pushing for the DU proposal, which would not only provide a "never-ending" source of education for police about the Fourth Amendment, attorneys argued, but "would also further the Plaintiffs' interest in supporting the constitutional rights of parties in need of representation in already existing litigation." To make the plan more palatable to the defendants, they noted that clinical law students would only represent clients in cases already approved by the FFA.
But Brougham remained adamantly opposed to the DU concept. "The bulk of the monies available here would simply be used to provide a permanent fund for a chair at the University of Denver," he complained in a letter to John Richilano, chair of the FFA. "The income off that fund would apparently be used to pay a large portion of a professor's salary, and something less than $10,000 a year was proposed to be used to train law-enforcement officers." Brougham also had problems with the logistics of the DU plan. He questioned how just fifty trainees would be able to get their message across to Colorado's 12,000 active law-enforcement officers, and said he doubted that the school had enough credibility among law-enforcement agencies to be effective.
Nevertheless, in November 1998, Richilano and the FFA recommended the plaintiffs' plan. In a letter to Judge Matsch, Richilano dismissed Brougham's criticisms. "So far as we can tell, however, the alternative he proposes would have the District Court Clerk's office disburse funds from the remainder to pay for such regional training programs as may be scheduled until the fund is exhausted," he wrote. "This alternative is not acceptable in our view."
But the FFA's recommendation was not acceptable to the court, either, and a year later, the plaintiff class was forced to begin all over again. This time it faxed a request for proposals to 930 Colorado nonprofits, including law-enforcement agencies, looking for suggestions on how to spend the settlement money. Thirteen organizations responded, and five of those went on to submit proposals: the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Arc of Aurora, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and the Colorado Partnership for Education Renewal.
Only the ADL and NAACP proposals were seriously considered by the court.
The NAACP proposed establishing a Colorado Civil Rights Educational Consortium to "foster and sustain a positive and productive working relationship, on the issue of civil rights, among all major social institutions in our community." This consortium would sponsor seminars to teach people about state civil-rights laws and issues, which in turn might reduce the number of civil-rights violations in Colorado. The ADL proposed anti-bias training for law enforcement, with a goal of developing "cultural competency skills" for police. Two educators would lead classes of up to fifty people through an eight-hour in-service session.
The plaintiffs didn't like either of the plans. "It is hard to understand how they have anything to do with this case," Miller said. The ADL's proposal came in for particular criticism. "Court approval of this program," he complained, "would be like forcing a square peg into a round hole."
The discussion had dragged on so long that by this past November, Judge Kane had replaced Matsch on the case. Kane brought the lawyers from both sides together and, with the help of the Colorado Attorney General's Office, the lawyers came up with a compromise that essentially fuses together all of the plans. Under this proposal, $300,000 will go to POST to conduct diversity and anti-bias training for newly certified cops; the ADL will run the training. The NAACP will receive $50,000 to do community-outreach programs on profiling throughout the state for seven years. And the rest of the money, about $254,000, will go to the University of Denver College of Law, which will match the funds and create a clinical fellowship for civil rights that will be in place for at least the next nine years.
While Kane approved the plan in theory, he had concerns. Money donated to DU usually goes into the school's general fund, and the interest it earns there is kept by the university; Kane wanted any interest to be funneled back into the program. He also found the NAACP part of the plan too vague, with no provisions for accountability. And finally, he thought the three proposals should be integrated and suggested that DU law students participate in the officer-training process.
If the plan, with Kane's changes, is approved -- and approval is likely to come in the next few months, say attorneys for both sides -- then a few dozen instructors, most selected by POST, will begin offering its diversity-training program in late summer or early fall. Over the next seven and a half years, the program will be repeated five times in ten state regions, which means the training will be presented at least fifty times -- enough to reach most of the 12,000 active peace officers in Colorado, POST director John Kammerzell estimates. Participants will critique the program, and POST plans to develop videos of the presentation that can be used to train officers once the settlement moneys run out. By then, Kammerzell hopes, other resources may be available.
"This will be post-graduate classwork for every cop in Colorado," says Brougham.
The Eagle County case was the first of its kind, says Miller, a successful bellwether for plaintiffs in states as far-flung as California, Pennsylvania and Florida. The case's settlement, too, was a unique solution.
But Miller knows that combating profiling won't be easy. "Police officers don't learn from someone standing over them in a lecture," he says. They learn from peer pressure, from their superiors telling them exactly what they're supposed to do. It's a world, he says, where "you fit into your environment; you say 'Yes, sir' and keep your mouth shut."
Eldred Pate works at YouthBiz, a northeast Denver nonprofit that teaches neighborhood kids business skills. YouthBiz is located in District 2, which includes parts of northeast Denver around City Park. In this part of town, 50 percent of the residents are black, 30 percent are white and 19 percent are Latino, according to the Colorado Progressive Coalition, a group of organizations working for social and economic justice. Yet of the police officers working that district, only 12 percent are black, 68 percent are white, and 17 percent are Latino. (In neighboring District 6, which includes downtown and Five Points, the police percentages come closer to matching the residents' profile.)
The numbers bring up a question that Denver officials can't yet answer. When the police stop a lot of black and Latino citizens in this part of town, is it because people of color make up the majority of residents? Or is it profiling, with officers stopping minorities only because they perceive minorities to be more inclined to criminal activity?
Some residents, such as the 33-year-old Pate, believe they already know the answer.
Pate, who is black and wears his hair in dreadlocks, was stopped several times by police just outside the YouthBiz office at 35th Avenue and Franklin Street last fall. Once he was just crossing the street in front of the office. The stops were brief and Pate wasn't ticketed, but it still "sucks," he says.
"This stuff always happens," he adds. "The term now is just 'racial profiling.' To me, it's routine neighborhood harassment. I just get it over with, so I can move along and they can move along."
Last month one of Pate's colleagues, a young Hispanic coach who asked not to be identified, had his own run-in with police. On his way to lunch, he'd gone half a block when the police pulled over his Chrysler Sebring. The YouthBiz coach felt his adrenaline rise, but he knew the drill: Stay calm, do what they say. "Because I fit the description of a young Hispanic male and I wear a lot of gold, I seem to be put in a category: dope dealer, drug dealer," he says. "I'm not in a gang file, but I get treated like a gang member."
One of the cops was Hispanic, but the white cop did most of the talking. (Hispanic officers often give him a harder time than white or black officers, the coach says.) He asked the coach where he'd stolen the car -- even though the coach had his license and registration handy -- and said that he fit the description of a suspect they were looking for. "I think that's just what he threw at me to shut me up," says the coach. After the cops searched the car for 45 minutes, the coach was told he could go -- without so much as a ticket.
Like Pate, the coach regards profiling as a fact of life for a Hispanic man. "It's not even a bad thing; it's just something we deal with," he says. "You just cooperate and you'll be let go in an hour."
Last August, the Colorado Progressive Coalition released its own survey of racial-profiling practices in north Denver's Cole neighborhood. More than 350 people were surveyed; 70 percent were familiar with the term "racial profiling," 70 percent said they felt they'd been stopped by police officers solely because of their race, and nearly three-quarters said they felt that DPD officers practiced profiling. Of the respondents, 60 percent were black, 35 percent were Latino and 5 percent were white. (According to the 1990 Census, at that time 37 percent of Cole's 4,065 residents were black, 7 percent were white and 55 percent were Hispanic -- the population segment that likely has seen the greatest growth over the past ten years.)
The survey was conducted randomly, according to the coalition; surveyors visited 1,000 homes in the neighborhood and asked whomever was in to participate. Many of the respondents who shared their experiences asked that their names not be used because they feared retribution.
Denver police argue that the survey was biased. "I believe the way the data was collected, it was skewed," says Sergeant Anderson. "I think when you do a survey like that, it has to be done on a random basis through the entire metropolitan area."
So far, though, the DPD's community meetings haven't come up with reliable data, either.
At the first meeting, held November 8, the police made a presentation and ran the show; citizens complained that the community's input was ignored. The third meeting -- and the first held on Denver's west side -- was "volatile," says Nita Gonzales, who runs Escuela Tlatelolco, a private alternative school for Chicanos. "Northwest Denver was not going to let them off lightly. This is a very serious issue. We want to see some dramatic change."
In response to complaints that the police had run the first three meetings, the fourth -- held on a wintry night in early December -- had no fewer than three facilitators, including Denver City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, Whittier Neighborhood Association president Darrell Watson and Metro State College criminologist Angelina De La Torre. With police on one side, many unidentified community leaders on the other and confused residents in the middle, the meeting ended in an incoherent standoff.
At the fifth meeting, held January 10 on Denver's northwest side, discussion again focused mostly on rules and procedures for future meetings. "We're having a meeting about how to have a meeting we're not going to have," Pate pointed out.
Nevertheless, community leaders and police officials praised the process as the meeting wrapped up. "Tonight I think we saw officers who want to do the right thing," Gonzales said.
"As long as we can keep coming back to the table, we can make progress," Captain Vasquez added. The next meeting is set for January 30 at Clybourn Village.
But critics of the process say real progress won't come until the police admit that profiling exists. "They may be in denial," says Gonzales, who frequently steps out from her neutral "facilitator" role.
Christine Romano, who works as a liaison between police and north Denver residents along Colfax between Colorado and Yosemite, says only two people have come to her with complaints about profiling over the past five years. And once her office investigated, the complainants realized they weren't victims of profiling, merely rude behavior. "We're mandating our Denver police officers prove that they are innocent rather than guilty," Romano adds. "We're profiling our Denver officers."
The city's Public Safety Review Commission, which handles police complaints, won't say whether any of those complaints concern profiling. The DPD's Internal Affairs Division doesn't keep track of profiling issues, although it may when the department begins collecting data on stops this summer.
But collecting that data has its own problems. Asking motorists what their ethnic background is may be seen as harassment itself. And the methodology could create more obstacles. Rather than straight data collection, James Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, recommends an experimental study that would send black and white motorists with identical characteristics (age, car, gender, so forth) into particular areas in order to determine whether one group is stopped more frequently. The city, however, is going with the straightforward collection system.
Romano has another concern. Since officers are supposedly already trained not to see color, she wonders whether data collection sends a contradictory message: "'We're going to force you to see color. If you see too much color, you'd better watch out.' Is that what we're saying?"
"It's really preposterous for them to think profiling doesn't exist," responds De La Torre. "If it's everywhere else in the country, what are the odds that it is not here?"
Ask Jhenita Whitfield.
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