Oakland town hall addresses racial profiling

Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick laid out one of her main missions before a town hall meeting Thursday in Laney College's Theater, packed with members of the public who came to hear about how a Stanford University team of researchers is collecting data on Oakland policing policies. 

"Racial profiling is absolutely unacceptable," said Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, "We need to be a police department that's focused on behavior and behavior-based only."

The police chief and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said researchers at Stanford University have been analyzing data on Oakland police that has led to some big changes.

"These numbers are our accountability measure and allows us to demonstrate this is the baseline and we are going to hold ourselves accountable," said Schaaf. 

The data has shown a big disparity among traffic stops of African Americans compared to other groups. In 2017 there were 19,185 traffic stops for African Americans compared to 6,855 for Latinos, 2,805 for whites, 1,553 for Asians and 1,130 for the category, "other." 

In the past six months of 2018, however, the chief says the number has gone down as the department focused on changing the criteria to behavior not race for stops.

"We have stopped in the last six months, 3,000 fewer African Americans in our community," said Chief Kirkpatrick. 

The chief says the data shows that police use of force also has declined. 

"We found by using de-escalation strategies that our need to use force has dramatically dropped," said Kirkpatrick. 

Jennifer Eberhardt, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University says one important factor in the research is that her team and Oakland police are analyzing all body camera video not just when there is a problem. 
"This is a way Oakland is leading the charge to not just look at bad incidents," said Eberhardt, "But to actually look at the footage collectively and to look at footage for routine traffic stops and get a better sense of what's happening in the hose traffic stops."

That practice she says revealed that police on average showed different levels of respect based on race, speaking more politely to white citizens than non-white ciitizens. 

During the town hall, some members of the audience shouted out their frustrations, saying they want faster change on the streets and more police accountability. 

"Numbers and what they showed us in there those slides and all that means nothing to a person who's arrested tonight for racial profiling," said Elam Hardin, an Oakland native now living in Concord. He said there should be more conversations between people about race and respect. 

"What we really need is action. What are you going to do with the data, how are you going to incorporate it and what part do the people have to play in making sure we have solutions? " said Jonathan Piper, an Oakland Skyline High School student.

"Until the officers implement what they learn in the streets that's the only way to change it," said Janelle La Chaux, an Oakland native who lives in Mill Valley. 

The future of the police partnership with the Stanford research team is uncertain. The researchers have worked with police since 2014, but the contract is up for renewal and discussion next week. The mayor's staff say the cost of renewing the contract would be $250,000.