After delaying a vote for several meetings, the Public Safety Commission on Monday supported a resolution asking for more racial profiling data from the Austin Police Department and a more rigorous analysis of it by the Office of the Police Monitor.
Commissioner Mike Levy took a minute to congratulate fellow commissioners after a unanimous vote.
“I think what this commission has just done and just accomplished is very, very important,” he said. “We have strongly suggested a degree of rigor on the Office of the Police Monitor.”
The resolution, as it turns out, may be partly symbolic. While state law already requires some data reporting by the police (such as the demographics of those arrested and cited), commissioners agreed that they wanted more information such as the demographics of those stopped, even if the person is let go without a ticket or arrest.
But APD said Monday that the department already has more data collection underway, including geo-location capabilities on ticketing machines so they can more easily analyze where people are stopped.
The resolution also sought a more rigorous analysis of available data. Some commissioners took issue with what they said was a lack of contextual analysis in Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier’s annual reports. For example, in her report examining 2015 data, Frasier concluded that the likelihood of a police stop turning into a search was one in seven. For a white person, she wrote, it was one in 21.
But Commissioner Kim Rossmo said he wanted more context for numbers like this.
“African-American drivers in 2015 were stopped by APD at a rate higher than the representation of the population,” he said. “Well, what representation of the population? Census data, voting data?”
But Nelson Linder, president of Austin’s NAACP chapter, said a focus on more data collection is a distraction.
“I think data is also a perennial circle of confusion,” he said. “We know what’s happening in this city and this country. The goal is to stop it.”
Linder said he supports more consequences for officers found to be racially profiling.
Monday’s discussion took place against the backdrop of a pending contract: body cameras for APD officers. City Council will vote on a five-year, $9 million contract Thursday.
Update: Audio from McGlinchy’s KUT piece is embedded below.
This story is the result of a partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT News.
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Nelson Linder: Linder has served as President of the Austin, Texas Branch of the NAACP since 2000.
Public Safety Commission: The Public Safety Commission is a City Council advisory body charged with oversight of budgetary and policy matters concerning public safety These include matters related to the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department."
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