Decatur Police now tracking statistics about race

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 18, 2014
Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The Decatur Police Department has recently started documenting ethnicity of people detained by officers, City Manager Peggy Merriss said.

Merriss made the announcement during Monday’s City Commission meeting. She was giving an update on how the city intends to respond to concerns about racial profiling raised by the Decatur Community Coalition. One of the group’s specific requests was requiring officers “to record the apparent or perceived ethnicity, gender and age of motorists or pedestrians stopped by police.”

During the meeting, Merriss said that police started tracking this information at the end of July.

The Community Coalition made several requests of commissioners back in April. Former City Schools of Decatur Board of Education member Don Denard started the discussion in January after detailing how he was stopped by a Decatur Police Officer. A subsequent Police Department investigation cleared the department of any wrongdoing, but soon other black residents came forward to share their stories about how they were treated by officers.

In response, the city stuck $25,000 in the budget as a placeholder for whatever actions the City Commission decided to take. In addition to tracking racial data, the city is also planning a series of responses, Merriss said.

Merriss said the city will be “sponsoring a community conversation” about diversity in the city.

“We’ve met with a local facilitator and community development specialist who is going to provide us a proposal at our Sept. 2 meeting,” Merriss said.

Merriss said the city has also decided to keep intern Christian Perry around a little longer after his widely-read presentation about the changing demographic makeup of Decatur.

Perry will be providing staff with logistical and technical support based on his research, Merriss said.

There’s also a conference call set for Wednesday between Merriss, Deputy Police Chief Keith Lee and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League.  They’re going to be discussing the ADL’s “very robust diversity training program for law enforcement agencies,” Merriss said.

Mayor Jim Baskett said the city ran all of this past the Community Coalition.

“We’ve not gotten a response from them but I wanted you to know we’ve taken some steps,” he said at the end of Monday’s meeting.

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  • OakhurstRez

    I am sorry, did I miss something or have I just incorrectly assumed that ethnicity was already documented when the police detains someone. Detain meaning have arrested or just questioning. In light of the incident in Ferguson, Missouri it amazes me the performance demands we place on law enforcement. Loved and celebrated one day, hated and wanted dead the next. I know of no other occupation (excluding military) that places ones life in jeopardy every day for such humble pay and yet as if protecting citizens was not enough, they have to concede to the whim of a few. I would imagine the Decatur police could feel somewhat distrusted and angry about having to add another layer of proof of performance and bureaucracy in their job. It certainly lays the path for a slippery slope. What then, in 6,12,18 months or more and we discover no apparent trend or profiling. What will happen then. Its funny, I mostly find myself at odds with the ACLU. I am, by no means, a donor for that cause, however this appears to be an issue they would surely like to read into a bit more.

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