Minneapolis police will track race, gender at traffic stops

Minneapolis police
Police officers make a traffic stop on North Washington Avenue in Minneapolis on Sept. 20, 2010.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News file

Updated: Sept. 16, 8:10 a.m. | Posted: Sept, 15, 5:33 p.m.

The Minneapolis Police Department on Thursday started tracking demographic information including race and gender of people involved in traffic stops.

The department hopes the move will increase transparency and public trust in police, Chief Janee Harteau said in a statement.

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"The goal is to provide more information and context to data sets that community members may be interested in," she said.

They'll also log demographics during suspicious person, suspicious vehicle, truancy, curfew and attempted arrest calls.

A new feature in Minneapolis squad car computers will require cops to enter demographic data of the person they stopped and why they did so before the call can be cleared, according to police. Officers will also note whether they searched a person.

The data collected will be analyzed and released to the public quarterly.

A police statement said the change came after consultation with the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the Chief's Citizens Advisory Council and the police union, among others.

St. Paul police have been gathering similar data on some police stops for more than a decade.

Civil rights groups and the city's Police Conduct Oversight Commission have long been pushing for better data collection by Minneapolis police officers — especially in cases where a person is stopped for being suspicious, but not booked.

Police call those investigatory stops. And a commission study last year found that officers documented the race of the people they stopped just 11 percent of the time.

Commission member and Minneapolis attorney Jennifer Singleton said the data collection effort will help the public learn a lot more about suspicious person and traffic stops. Singleton said there's widespread concern about racial profiling, but only anecdotal information to back it up.

"When that data isn't collected, we just don't really have a way of knowing what exactly is going on, and who's being stopped and why they're being stopped," Singleton said. "So it's hard to get a handle on just what's happening."

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said the Police Department's move is a step in the right direction toward accountability. But she said data collection is only the first step.

"The question will be how the Minneapolis Police Department decides to use the data that it collects in changing the behavior of officers, especially when there are concerns surrounding racial profiling and mistreatment of people of color," she said.

Levy-Pounds said the Police Department needs to take a close look at the use of low-level ordinances as a reason to stop people, and that the department should appoint someone to analyze the data and ensure that it's used to change police procedures.

Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll said the union doesn't have a problem with data collection. But he said to get an accurate picture of any alleged bias by officers, researchers must compare racial data from suspicious person stops with the physical descriptions of suspects reported by 911 callers.

"The data needs to start there. And if they do that, we are fine with the rollout and the collection on the back end. But otherwise, any type of study, the figures can and probably will look skewed," he said.