Residents urge Palo Alto to monitor traffic-stops

City scrapped Police Department's demographic-data collection last month to save money

A group of Palo Alto residents is trying to convince the city to retain the Police Department's practice of collecting demographic data at traffic stops.

Lynn Krug, a Midtown resident and an inspector in the city's Utilities Department, said she is collecting endorsements from human rights and labor groups for a petition to keep the data-collection in place.

So far, more than 20 organizations and individuals have signed the petition, including members of the San Mateo Labor Council, the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center and Free at Last.

The City Council agreed to stop collecting data last month as part of its effort to trim the Police Department budget and close the city's General Fund deficit.

The Police Department began collecting demographic data for all police traffic stops about 10 years ago. It has also been publishing reports on traffic-stop data online and periodically presenting them to the City Council.

The reports took on more prominence in November 2008, shortly after former Police Chief Lynne Johnson made comments that many interpreted as an endorsement of racial profiling.

The comments prompted the department to launch a series of initiatives to promote fair and unbiased policing, including regular community meetings with Police Chief Dennis Burns, a new citizen task force to advise Burns and seminars on unbiased policing for police officers.

At the June 6 meeting of the Human Relations Commission, Burns said recent changes in the department should more than make up for losing demographic-date collection. He noted the city now has an independent police auditor and that all police cars now have audio and video cameras that record every traffic stop -- measures that were not in place a decade ago.

"We won't be collecting data, but we'll be shifting our focus elsewhere," Burns said. "Through training, policy development and working with the auditor, we believe we'll be able to achieve the goal of fair and impartial policing."

The commission voted at that meeting to recommend that the department continue collecting the demographic data, but only if it could do so without being forced to cut other police positions. Despite the recommendation, the council ultimately approved a budget that eliminates the crime analyst position responsible for compiling the reports.

City and police officials have maintained in the past that the numbers in the reports are ambiguous and liable to misinterpretation. But John Abraham, a local resident with a doctorate in statistics from Stanford University, has consistently pointed to the reports as evidence that officers pull over black and Hispanic residents much more frequently than white residents.

Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco recommended in a February report that the city continue to collect the traffic-stop data, even after he acknowledged the data's shortcomings.

"More often than not, jurisdictions that have attempted to analyze stop data in the past, have been left unsatisfied and unable to draw any firm or widely accepted conclusions," Gennaco wrote.

"Even more problematic, in some jurisdictions, the same data has been assessed by competing analysts to reach opposite conclusions about whether bias-based policing has occurred."

But he also said data collection carries several important benefits. It "conveys important messages both to the community and within the police department that the city is concerned with the specter of bias-based policing and is not shy about providing to its public such data stop."

The data can also provide the police agency with important information about the work of its officers, even if it can't at this time prove or disprove allegations of bias, Gennaco wrote.

Krug, who last year served as chair of Service Employees International Union, Local 521, had also sent an e-mail to the council this week urging members to restore collection of demographic data. She indicated that the SEIU employee whose position was cut will likely speak at Monday night's council meeting.

The council will begin its meeting at 5:30 p.m. with a closed session to discuss labor negotiations. The regular meeting will follow in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

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Like this comment
Posted by racial profiling
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Do Arizona police have to collect demographic data after their traffic stops? Can they use "demographic data" to demand to see someone's citizenship papers?

Like this comment
Posted by genaco
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Aug 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm

gennaco seems confused. seems pro cop,but tries to sound ''fair''.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Maybe they ought to say who is stopped where. That would explain a lot. Common sense does not seem to apply to elite liberals. Crime trends in certain areas may lead to one of more race stopped than others. Does EPA collect data info? Or maybe Papd should also post the time of the stop. For example 3am on east bayshore. Not sure about most people but most law abiding folks should be asleep. Get of it and let police, police.

Like this comment
Posted by Luis P
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2010 at 8:46 pm

"Despite the recommendation, the council ultimately approved a budget that eliminates the crime analyst position responsible for compiling the reports."

Sounds to me like city counsel already made its decision.

Like this comment
Posted by There's no Point
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2010 at 8:56 pm

The data has been collected for 10 years and it is what it is and hasn't changed.

Those who want to think poorly of the police interpret the data to fit their agenda.

Those who support the police realize it represents the racial make up of the bay area and those who come into contact with the police.

Continuing to collect the same data isn't going to change any of that.

All it does is waste money and provide periodic reports the critics can beat the police over the head with.

Time to move on.

Like this comment
Posted by Unnecessary Position
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2010 at 6:48 am

This is just another waste of money. As our budget deficit grows this is the kind of useless record keeping that needs to be dropped.

The only reason Lynn Krug is pushing for this is she wants the position of crime analyst filled again. Let it go and save the money. This is a Union fight with SEIU.

Like this comment
Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

Ed, you're making a huge assumption about when "law-citizens should" be asleep. Many fine, upstanding citizens work the graveyard shift, or get up at 2 am to do an early morning shift every weekday, or even weekends.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

"Residents". Really.

How many "residents" signed the petition? Out of 65,000? Sorry, but last I checked, activist groups (and BTW - none from Palo Alto) do not qualify as residents. Same goes for union groups such as SEIU.

The city council did the right thing. Move on.

Like this comment
Posted by natalie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm

There is one error I know of in the article. Lynn Krug is the former CHAPTER chair of SEIU, LOCAL 521. That is, the City's chapter.

The entire local is very large and covers many more areas than Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Yes! a waste of money!
Have the police nothing else to do?
Think about this: There are round abouts that are confusing-- so people ignore.
There are street barriers that a car can still go through-- so people ignore.
There are stop signs every block in some neighborhoods-- so people ignore.
Let's spend our money on getting RID of some of THESE instead! Such as on Lincoln & Park. All the streets! It will encourage people to make safer driving choices.

Also: Since these are ignored all the time, many, many near accidents over the years,
have been witnessed. Pull out the street barriers, roundabouts, cut down on the stop signs, and stop your tax money being wasted on having police sitting all the time on side streets, like by Park Blvd., in case someone goes through one of these ridiculous barriers!

Like this comment
Posted by Zebra
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm

What is the San Mateo Labor Council and those other organizations doing getting involved in Palo Alto decisions? Stay out! I have not seen one improvement in Palo Alto because of this data. Save money, stop it

Like this comment
Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Too many people are simply looking for any reason to blame the police for racism. In >8 years there has been about a 30% turnover in the police dept. Yet the data hasn't changed.

Consider that when stops are made at night, the officer almost never can see who is driving and use race as a reason for the stop.

Even during the day it's difficult to determine the race of a driver when the windows are rolled up and the sun is shining on them. And finally many "chases" and stops are made when the officer approaches from the rear making it almost impossible to see the driver clearly.

Like this comment
Posted by Time-To-Move-On
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2010 at 6:10 pm

After all of these years this data has proven nothing except that the Palo Alto government is an easy target for anyone who whats to play "the race card".

The police have never been able to figure out how to design a dataset that can actually prove something. The person who has been doing this job has shown herself to be incompetent, as she has not provided any evidence of understanding either experiment/data design and statistics well enough to be able to make the appropriate recommendations to get Police Management to agree to collect data that actually could prove something.

This whole issue is over money and pensions. The value of a pension these days is in the millions of dollars. Most people don't know that, but union members make more in their retirement years than they do on the job.

Lastly, if the Police Chief (current or previous) were the least bit competent, he/she would have had all the data collection input and reduction done via the computer. Paying a "crime analyst" to screw around inputting the data from these cards (or whatever she did) is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.

Be gone!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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