SALEM — After years of disagreement, both Oregon law enforcement and civil rights leaders voiced support Monday, March 6, for a bill that would require police to record data on race during traffic stops.
The legislation, proposed by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, is aimed at addressing racial profiling by law enforcement.
"The legitimacy of our law enforcement depends on public perception, and there is no accountability mechanism better than sunshine," Rosenblum testified during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. "The experience of other states suggests that law enforcement is often quick to change their policies when confronted with data suggesting disparate impact on diverse communities."
The legislation also expands mandatory bias training for police officers and downgrades certain drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors — crimes for which people of color are disproportionately prosecuted.
Law enforcement officers would be required to record the race of the person stopped and when a citation or warning is issued, a search is conducted or a person is arrested. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission would analyze the data for any enforcement disparities and publish any trends in an annual report. Finally, the information would be distributed at a public forum in the law enforcement agency's county of jurisdiction.
Several law enforcement agencies already collect such data voluntarily. Since 2000, Oregon State Police has been recording data on race, gender, age, reason for contact, citation, warning or search type.
"OSP does believe data collection has value in terms of guiding good policing policy and a critical foundation for discussions relating to policing concerns," said OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton. "Before we have the conversation, I think we do need the data."
OSP data shows that 2.1 percent of trooper contacts were with people identified as black, which is proportionate with the population. But in Multnomah County, court records show that blacks are 10 times more likely to be charged with a drug-related crime, according to a Portland Tribune report.
"Though today we don't say that black people have to sit in the back of the bus, we don't say that they don't have access to public education or housing or health care, what we do say is that black people are criminal, and we will criminalize them at every step in the process," said Jo Ann Hardesty, president of NAACP Portland.
Hardesty said the bill would be a good step toward addressing racial profling.
"Oregon is not the only state that has disparate outcomes for people of color every step of the way, … but it is the only state that pretends it's progressive," Hardesty said at Monday's hearing. "I am here today to encourage you to live up to what you think you are and actually do something that is going to have a significant impact on people's lives."