Daryl Savage's effort to save the police department time -- by cutting the amount of demographic information, such as race, officers collect -- was strongly opposed by her Human Relations Commission colleagues Thursday evening.
But by the end of the evening, the commission agreed to pursue a compromise crafted by Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell, the council's liaison to the commission.
Rather than collect the race, sex, age, city of residence and other information from people stopped by the police for one three-month chunk per year, as proposed by Vice Chair Savage, the department could collect the data continuously, but only analyze a random sampling of dates, Cordell suggested. That would eliminate the possibility that officers would know when their contacts with the public would be recorded.
"She improved on a good idea," Savage said Friday.
Savage said she proposed the cutback because the data hasn't changed much since it was first collected in 2000, it takes a considerable amount of department time to compile and the city now has access to a police auditor and video cameras in patrol cars.
"On an experimental basis, we just want to give it a try," Savage said.
Savage said she was not asked by the Police Department to make the proposal, although officers were receptive to the idea when she shared it.
It takes an officer about five minutes to enter the information, which also includes the location of the stop and its resolution. Until this year, the officers wrote the information down on cards; now they enter it into a computer, Contois said.
But for administrative staff, the compilation takes about 800 hours a year, according to the department's Director of Technical Services Sheryl Contois.
The Police Department has collected demographic data from each officer-initiated contact with the public since 2000, which is then compiled into quarterly reports released twice a year, Contois said.
The reports display the data in a variety of formats -- such as the percentage of African Americans stopped at night for vehicle equipment failures. But they aren't used by the department or the public, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said Thursday.
The data is not used when a complaint of racial profiling is made, Johnson said.
"Quite honestly, I don't think anybody else in the community reads it except for Mr. Abraham," Johnson said, referring to John Abraham, a longtime department critic.
"I think if you don't see the data as a tool that can make your department more effective and efficient then that's a concern," Commissioner Donald Mendoza said. He said the real issue was how to analyze the data so it would be useful to the community.
"There may be a message in that data that may be of importance," he said.
Palo Alto Police Auditor Michael Gennaco, an attorney with the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review, said that many cities are struggling with the question of what to do with the demographic data they have collected.
"Quite frankly, as I sit here today I think of all the work that's been done … has probably frustrated more folks that have had to deal with this than they have resolved much of anything," Gennaco said.
But, Gennaco pointed out, just collecting the data "could be seen at least as an attempt to provide some level of transparency."
And cutting back on the collection of racial information would send a bad message to the community, commissioners Jeff Blum and Olana Hirsch Khan said.
Collecting data only "a quarter a year would hinder a lot of the transparency and communication in our community," Khan said, opposing Savage's original idea.
"What are we telling, in particular, the minorities?," Blum questioned.
Chair Adam Atito said he would like the department to make improvements based on problems discovered in the data.
Only three vocal department critics attended Thursday's meeting.
Savage said she plans to work with Atito and Commissioner Shauna Wilson, who comprise the commission's Police/Community Relations subcommittee, to develop a workable proposal to compile only a random sampling of the data as suggested by Cordell.
The commission could then turn to Stanford experts or others to help them figure out how to transform the data into a meaningful form, Cordell said.