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City council chambers were full at a combined meeting of the Urbana Human Relations Commission (HRC) and Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) on Wednesday, July 13, 2011, at 5:30 p.m. to address racial profiling numbers collected by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The meeting was the result of a chorus of voices asking for a public conversation about racial profiling in Urbana.
Recent traffic stop information for 2010 was just compiled and released. This is information collected by officers, including racial information, during routine traffic stops and turned over to IDOT. The “racial disparity index,” or ratio, for Urbana police rose from 1.56 in 2009 to 1.7 in 2010, the highest in the twin cities. In contrast, the number in Champaign was 1.48; Champaign County Sheriff’s Office was 1.29; UIPD was 1.5. If no disparity was found to exist, the number would be 1.0.
The meeting Wednesday night was chaired by Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing who opened by saying she took such numbers with a “grain of salt” and believed at issue was the reputation of the city and of the Urbana Police Department. She warned people who came in with their thermometer set at 105 degrees that perhaps their thermometer was wrong.
A 30-minute presentation was provided by the human relations officer Todd Rent who said this meeting was to “begin a community discussion.” He explained how the city had received the help of a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to do a statistical analysis of data from 2007-2009. Rent made the recommendation that the city add more options to the traffic stop cards that officers fill out; he requested more training for officers on non-biased policies; and he asked that the city work with the directly affected neighborhoods to find out from them, “Do you feel besieged by police presence?”
Another 30-minute presentation was given by Police Chief Patrick Connolly and his assistant Anthony Cobb. Connolly said that after analyzing the data, “Instead of finding answers […], we only created more questions.” As an example, Cobb showed the 12-minute video of a traffic stop. The point he made was that information about traffic stops was inaccurate. The stop was recorded as taking 15 minutes when it only lasted 12 minutes. With this anticlimactic ending, Connolly took over. If police received more calls and saw more accidents in an area such as Beat 61―which includes the black community of the North End on Urbana’s side of town―Connolly said they would “saturate the area.”
After Chief Connolly’s presentation, Mayor Prussing responded with, “Wow! Thank you very much.” Members of the HRC and CPRB asked questions for 20 minutes. To concerns about the racial disparity, Connolly and Cobb were either elusive or said that “with limited resources” such looking back at the numbers was “time consuming.” Todd Rent reiterated this point saying that the city had “only so many resources.”
At almost 7:00 p.m., the public finally had a chance to speak. Martel Miller talked first about the phenomenon of “Driving While Black.” Yet he pointed out that the people most affected were not in the audience, “We’re talking about the young black male.” He urged the city officials, “get these people involved.” Miller spoke about watching as police profiled black drivers at the intersection of Washington and Philo in southeast Urbana. He also told of his own experience of being stopped on Illinois Street by an Urbana police officer who asked, “where was I going, where have I been.”
Esther Patt spoke as a representative of the local chapter of the ACLU. She mentioned a recent complaint to the Department of Justice filed by the ACLU against the Illinois State Police for racial disparities in requests for consent searches of cars [for more see ACLU President William Brown’s article in the summer 2011 issue of the Public i]. According to data, although minorities in Urbana are twice as likely to be asked to have their cars searched, whites are twice as likely to be carrying contraband. The ACLU, Patt said, called for the city of Urbana to put an end to all consent searches.
Belden Fields suggested Urbana take a cue from Champaign and hire a statistician. He also recommended the city hire more minority officers, which may not solve the problem, but may change the mentality of the department as a whole.
Durl Kruse, who has established himself as a local expert on the racial profiling data, spoke next. He called the problem in Urbana an “African American driver disparity.” For six years, he said, Urbana has ignored the data. The graduate student who studied the data, he observed, seemed to know little about the racial demographics of Urbana. The section on race and traffic stops was the shortest of the report, he pointed out. The additional analysis, he said, “adds nothing that IDOT hasn’t told us.”
Most significantly, Kruse drew attention to Beat 61 which although, according to data, had the fewest calls for service and the lowest crime report, had the highest number of traffic stops of African Americans.
The presentation by Kruse was interrupted by Mayor Prussing who asked him to wrap up his comments in one minute. The recent 2010 numbers were the worst in the seven years that the data had been collected, Kruse stated. Members of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice had met with Chief Connolly on this topic on November 4, 2010, but since there has not been one meeting despite requests. “We want to work with the city,” Kruse said. “We want to work with the HRC and the CPRB. We want to work with the Chief.”
Aaron Ammons, co-founder of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, said this issue was part of a national trend and was a systematic problem. The “elephant in the room,” was the view of African American males, believed by police to be drug dealers. He connected this issue to the recent ordinance proposed to the Urbana city council to pass an ordinance against panhandling. “When white business owners complain,” Ammons said, “police come down hard on the poor.”
Again, Mayor Prussing interrupted Ammons to ask him to wrap up his comments, as it was close to 7:30. “You’re placating me,” Ammons told the Mayor.
A brief statement by Lynn Stuckey was made and the meeting was closed out. The date for a future meeting to continue this conversation was not discussed.
For the 2010 data released by IDOT go to: