Oakwood rebuts racial profiling report

Oakwood city officials said a report that states its police department engages in racial profiling regarding black drivers is flawed and lacks evidence.

The report conducted by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and presented this fall found in 2016 black drivers accounted for 21.9 percent of the traffic stops in Oakwood where a problem with driving or equipment was observed, and 36.8 percent of the stops where a license plate check was run without tickets being written for an observable driving or equipment problem.

“From a data analysis perspective, the ABLE report is seriously flawed in several ways, rendering it inconclusive at best or invalid at worst,” Mayor Bill Duncan said during council’s Monday meeting.

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The report, which used 2016 traffic data, recommended the city conduct a fuller analysis and “begin appropriate training to ensure that all people driving in Oakwood are treated fairly and without discrimination.”

The analysis said that in Oakwood 26 percent of all people ticketed were black, and blacks received 33 percent of all tickets. (Some drivers received more than one ticket). In Kettering, 20.1 percent of the drivers receiving traffic tickets in 2016 were black and they received 23 percent of all tickets issued that year.

There are two primary ways a traffic stop is initiated in Oakwood: police give traffic tickets when they see drivers committing traffic offenses or when they see vehicles with obvious equipment problems, according to the ABLE report.

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Officers also have the discretion to run computer database checks on the license plates of cars as they drive by to check for license suspensions and other infractions reflected in those databases.

The ABLE report, Duncan said, “presents a breakdown by race of persons receiving traffic citations, yet does not provide a breakdown by race of persons that are driving through the community with suspended drivers licenses, outdated vehicle registration, active warrants or in stolen vehicles.”

Oakwood’s rebuttal presented Monday night concluded that “an important tool used by the Oakwood Safety Department, and by police departments throughout Ohio and nationwide, is license plate checks, whether officer initiated or via automatic license plate readers.”

The city report stated that from Jan. 1, 2016, through Oct. 28, 2019, its safety department made 152 warrant arrests that “originated from a variety of scenarios,” including routine field interviews and traffic stops.

“Of the 152 arrests, 34 were a direct result of license plate checks,” Duncan stated from the report.

MORE: Report: Oakwood police stop black drivers at a higher percentage

The ABLE report, which has stirred interest from residents at council meetings, drew an emotional response from each side of the issue following council’s rebuttal report.

Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney with ABLE, attended Monday’s night meeting and was disappointed with the city’s response.

“It is disappointing that the Oakwood City Council is still not ready to acknowledge and address the problem of discriminatory police stops,” Jacobs told this news organization after the meeting.

“It was heartening, however, to see so many younger Oakwood residents show up to the council meetings to press for action and change. They made a strong case that Oakwood can do better and that it needs to take steps to address discrimination,” Jacobs said.

MORE: Your Voice Ohio: Involved citizens are key to solving the region’s problems

Oakwood won’t commission study

The Advocates for Basic Legal Equality report recommended Oakwood commission an independent study of its current traffic stop data, adopt policies and provide training to ensure all people driving in Oakwood are treated fairly and without discrimination.

In subsequent meetings with city staff, the ABLE authors also said that the Oakwood Public Safety Department discontinue the use of random license plate checks.

In its response, the city said it will not commission an independent study “because such a study would not change the fact that the ABLE report cannot be interpreted meaningfully without additional data that is unknown and unknowable.”

The city did say it will take the following actions:

1) Oakwood will continue to regularly review and update as necessary our existing anti-bias policies to reflect law enforcement best practices.

2) Oakwood will continue our training of Oakwood Public Safety Officers and Command Staff on matters relating to cultural diversity, implicit bias and related topics, consistent with recognized law enforcement best practices. Our current training, which has also been in place since 2012, is effective and equals or exceeds training provided by other local jurisdictions. We will evaluate post-training impact assessment programs to determine if they add value to our training and provide measurable and meaningful benefits.

3) Oakwood will continue our policies and procedures relating to the conduct of lawful license plate checks.

4) Oakwood will continue to openly support the positive values of diversity in our community and encourage like support by all of our citizens.

5) Oakwood will continue to support our Public Safety Department and its outstanding professionals to ensure they enforce our traffic laws and keep our community safe.

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