Request respect – Racial profiling group makes recommendations

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt April 22, 2014
Don Denard listens during a Feb. 18 Decatur City Commission meeting. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

Don Denard listens during a Feb. 18 Decatur City Commission meeting. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

UPDATE: Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker has released a statement about the department’s participation in this ongoing conversation. His full statement is reprinted at the end of this article. 

For the last few weeks black men living in the city of Decatur have been opening up about their experiences with the city’s police department.

On Monday, some of those same men gave the Decatur City Commission a plan to address their concerns that officers are racially profiling them.

Don Denard, a former school board member, first brought the concerns to the City Commission’s attention back in January. Denard said he felt that he was racially profiled when he was stopped by police on Dec. 15 while walking down the street near his home. An internal police department investigation cleared the officer, but Denard’s story got people talking.

On March 30, about 70 people gathered at Oakhurst Presbyterian and listened to black residents tell their stories.

The people who say they were profiled include Terry LeCount, a former NFL wide receiver and paraprofessional at Oakhurst Elementary and the grandson of former Mayor Elizabeth Wilson.

They decided to form The Decatur Community Coalition. Denard spoke for the group at the meeting.

“We are formally presenting these recommendations to you tonight … with the expectation that we can embark upon a process that will ultimately produce a favorable impact in terms of avoiding allegations of racial profiling and preventing unnecessary harm, such as a death,” Denard told commissioners.

Denard spoke about the group’s specific recommendations, which he shared with Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker.

His recommendations include:

– Additional training for officers

– The city commission adopting a formal policy, proclamation or ordinance banning racial profiling in the city of Decatur, GA

– Discontinuing the use of “numbers of citations/arrests” in police performance evaluations.

– Requiring police officers to record the perceived ethnicity, gender and age of people they stop, and requiring officers to report the reason for the stop and the outcome of the encounter.

After Denard spoke, several other men who spoke at the March 30 meeting recounted their experiences to commissioners. To hear their stories, click here.

The full list of recommendations is reprinted at the end of this article.

City Commissioners took no specific action on Denard’s request, but said they would consider it.

Commissioner Kecia Cunningham, who is black, thanked Denard for his presentation.

“I really appreciate you sharing your stories. I would be lying if I said I did not at some point in my interactions in my time here in Decatur did not feel that I got some extra attention … ,” Cunningham said. “I think that’s just an unfortunate reality that we can do something about, and one of the things I really appreciate about what’s been brought to us is they’re very specific items, not nebulous and floating. Part of what we can do in Decatur is do better.”

Mayor Jim Baskett said he had apologized in person and in public to Denard, and gave his personal apologies to the other people who spoke during public comments on Monday.

“Growing up in the South as I did, if you’re my age, you recognize that it takes a great deal of vigilance, self-inspection and checking of yourself and your attitudes and the way you relate to others,” Baskett said. ” …  We can’t ever sit back and say ‘Oh, no. We’re good. We’re better than that. We’re a progressive community. We’ve got all that worked out, and all that behind us.’ No, we have to continually make certain that we are engaging our own ideas, engaging other people in dialogue and conversation and making sure that our own biases and our own fears are not making anyone in our community ever, ever feel like a lesser part of the community.”

Here is the list of recommendations presented at the April 21 City Commission meeting.




UPDATED at 3:41 PM. This afternoon Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker sent the following response to a question about his meeting with Don Denard. Here’s what he had to say:

I met with Mr. Denard yesterday in downtown Decatur, along with Ms. Manson, Mr. Nathaniel and Reverend  Stroupe.  Assistant City Manager David Junger accompanied me to the meeting.    We listened to their comments and concerns related to racial profiling.  Mr. Denard presented me with a pamphlet and an envelope that contained a list of recommendations that he was going to present to the City Commissioners at their meeting later that night (April 21, 2014).

The meeting was a very cordial conversation where I listened closely to their concerns and I posed some additional questions for Mr. Denard to consider when thinking about the Police Department’s responsibility to keep Decatur safe.  We talked about continuing the efforts to participate in the discussion regarding concerns of racial profiling in our community. I told Mr. Denard that I am willing to continue to meet with their group as well as any other members of the community about their ideas and concerns.   We as a City and department are always available to talk with groups throughout the city about any and all issues.   We are very concerned by the comments that have been made and are taking these complaints very seriously. It is our responsibility to make Decatur a safe and hospitable place for all members of our community.

– Mike Booker

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • Catie

    “Requiring police officers to record the perceived ethnicity, gender and age of people they stop, and requiring officers to report the reason for the stop and the outcome of the encounter.”

    This seems like a really good idea. Would love to see the long-term data such a record would provide.

    • Trying to understand

      Can you explain more? I have great respect for the Decatur Community Coalition so I want to understand. On first pass, it feels wrong to me to have the police recording characteristics that we do NOT want them to use for profiling, e.g. race and age. Won’t that just get them even more fixated on categorizing (aka profiling) people by those characteritics? Instead of focussing on behaviors that might be criminal? We want them to protect us from criminal behavior, not profile, right?

      • Andrew

        I believe the point is to gather aggregate data. It’s the only way the Department (and others) will be able to spot anomalies or circumstances where certain types of people might be being stopped disproportionally. It’s harder to make operational change based solely on how a group of people might feel. Having numbers that substantiate such claims allows the issue to be dealt with more pragmatically.

        • Trying to understand

          I see. I guess the data I would like to see is a little different–what was the justification for stopping someone? That focuses on whether people are stopped because their actions are suspicious rather than being stopped because they fit some profile based on indefensible assumptions. To me, you don’t need a lot of data if you have 5 good examples of Decatur residents or employees who are black being stopped without good cause. That’s 5 examples too many. It’s not justified by arguments of “that could happen to anyone, white or black”. Shouldn’t happen to anyone, white or black.

          The problem with data showing that black residents are being stopped disproportionately is that the argument will be made that blacks make up a disproportionate number of criminals so it’s okay. That’s a logical fallacy but you can’t counter a logical fallacy with data. A black resident or employee in Decatur should be able to conduct their normal daily activities without being stopped just because their skin color is dark. Ditto for white residents and employees who should not be stopped just because their skin color is light. I want the police to focus efficiently and intelligently on actions and behaviors that may be associated with crime, not on ineffective and maybe illegal and maybe immoral factors like skin color.

          Having said all this, it may be that the Decatur Community Coalition has experience and wisdom that I don’t with racial profiling and preventing it. I am glad that a light is being shone on it so that everyone in Decatur is aware. This isn’t just about the police pulling up their socks and doing better but about all of us doing so.

  • Chris Billingsley

    I have several concerns about this. One is that the job of a police officer will become even more difficult, collecting perceived racial data and worrying about how a preacher and other social activists will “perceive” his or her behavior. But for me, the real danger is the possibility that the commission and school board will over react and institute policies that make any form of racial profiling something to be ashamed of or even illegal. That would make the job of a police officer or teacher even harder than it is now. But the last recommendation may be the most sinister. Do we really want citizens to second guess their descriptions of suspicious activity or even worse, their eye witness testimony of a crime?
    Slippery slope this racial profiling agenda!

    • Kate Tuttle

      I don’t see how it’s “sinister” to remind citizens to check their own perceptions & biases before reporting “suspicious” behavior. We’ve seen far too many emails in the local list serves about allegedly suspicious behavior that basically boils down to “black man on my street.”

    • TheDude

      Under what circumstances would a teacher need to use “any form of racial profiling”?

      • Chris Billingsley

        Thanks “Dude”. Normally I don’t respond to thread requests but a friend of mine asked me to engage in a pretend conversation in hopes of “moving the issue forward”. To be clear, I don’t think what takes place in any thread is a conversation. That happens in the real world among people who use their real names. I only ask Decaturish to post my opinion and nothing more but here goes. You ask, “When would a teacher racially profile?” Based on my thirty five years in the classroom, it’s not if a teacher did this but whether a parent or administrator believed that racial profiling, or any other parent complaint, took place. This is what happens when community activists stage a drama at a commission or school board meeting. In a place like Decatur, government will over-react and set up new procedures to address any PERCEPTION of injustice. In my opinion, this is what happened when the school board became convinced that discrimination IN FAVOR of certain groups could close the so-called achievement gap. And the same thing will happen again if one more commissioner becomes convinced that the Decatur police needs more sensitivity towards certain groups. And we are this close, with two commissioners already cryin’ or apoligizin’ over the whole affair. I only hope that if I am ever detained by the police, whether briefly or a full arrest, that I file any complaint privately and allow due process to proceed in an office or courtroom and not on the blogs.
        And now Mr. Dude, can I borrow one of your rhetorical tricks and ask why this event has not been referred to the Justice Department in Washington D.C. for review (rhetorical in that I already know the answer)? Not that this story has any substance outside of Decatur but the actors in the drama could get invited to the Executive Mansion (Don’t dare call it the White House) for a feel-good beer summit. Maybe that’s what Decatur needs to resolve this, another festival because for many people in this town, it’s all about feelings. And or course, alcohol.
        Hey, I got it, Decatur’s “No Justice, No Peace” Wine Festival.

        • TheDude

          You’re welcome “Chris”. That’s “TheDude”, not “Dude”, or “Mr. Dude”. As a teacher w/your “thirty five years in the classroom”, I know you might appreciate precision or @ least have some sense of correctness. Guess you weren’t an English teacher.

          ANYwho, thanks for going abnormal, per your “friend’s” request to have a “pretend conversation”. Really “moving the issue forward” w/your rants about “The White House” (whoops, my bad–“The Executive Mansion”), getting detained/arrested, etc.

          I asked a fair & simple question, because I was curious, and interested in an actual answer. But, “to be clear” you just want to get your (mis-)perceived, condescending “rhetorical” rage on. That’s cool. After all, this is a “pretend conversation”, right?

      • Chris Billingsley

        Sorry Dude. I went too far in my response to your question. Please accept my apology. I owe you a beer or two down the road. I look forward to reading your comments in the future.

        • TheDude

          Wow–Thanks! Apology accepted, & reciprocated!

  • Chris Billingsley

    Future item on the Decatur Police Neighborhood Watch suggestions (Based on #13)
    “Your Decatur Police encourage you to report suspicious behavior in your neighborhood immediately, that is unless you perceive the suspicious person to be a member of a group that has been victimized by racial and/or gender profiling for the past 400 years. In that case, please be aware that your call is recorded. However, if the suspicious person appears to be a conservative white male handing out copies of the Constitution, please call us without hesitation.”

    • Trying to understand

      Actually, what the police are really saying (see other Decaturish article about recent robberies) shows that the discussions about racial profiling may already have had a positive effect. Quote from Sgt. Ross: “People aren’t suspicious, behavior is. Although we say “suspicious person” or “suspicious vehicle”, it is in fact the behavior that is suspicious.” Exactly right. It’s behavior, not skin color, that should prompt a call to the police.

  • Eric Strunz

    Many thanks for uploading the recommendations, Dan. Seems to me like there are certainly a few reasonable suggestions here. I particularly like the idea of recommendation five, where individuals are provided information about their stop. Perhaps that card or form could also have the officer’s name and instructions about how to report any problems. I think having a more accessible, open accountability system could help tremendously.

    As someone who works as a statistical analyst, I will say that a few of the items would be difficult (but not impossible) to implement. For example, recommendation seven requests that collected data be used to determine if any officers have disproportionately stopped any particular racial group. For one, that data will be based on officers’ perception on race and skin color. It’s going to be impossible to completely standardize how officers code or identify “race.” So is Officer A stopping more Latinos or merely classifying more people as Latinos?

    Second, I don’t work in law enforcement, but I imagine that there are many factors which could affect the process. Location, time of day, season, mode of transportation (foot, car, bike, etc.) all come to mind. Unless officers are randomly assigned or rotated through different situations, their data will not be truly comparable. Without that randomization, a careful analysis could still help control for outside factors, but it’s going to take a lot of data to start drawing any meaningful conclusions.

    I believe that data collection and analysis can be wonderful tools (it’s my job, after all!), but it’s easy to drown in it if you’re not careful. Does anyone know if any data analysts are advising on these recommendations?

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