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Police Data on Race in Lane County Difficult to Track

A blistering report by the U.S. Justice Department finds that “the Baltimore Police Department for years has hounded black residents who make up most of the city’s population, systematically stopping, searching and arresting them, often with little provocation or rationale,” The New York Times reports.

Racial bias here in Lane County is trickier to track. In the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests and police shootings of African-Americans, EW contacted the Eugene Police Department, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office and Springfield police to get an idea of how race is tracked in this area in interactions with law enforcement. 

The answer is that it’s not tracked very much at all.

As of July 2015, Lane County has an African-American population of just 1.1 percent, compared to 13.3 percent nationally, and Oregon is 2.1 percent African-American. According to a July report by The Sentencing Project, in Oregon one in 21 of all African-American adult males was in prison in 2014.

In its analysis of U.S. Justice Department data, The Sentencing Project found that African-Americans are incarcerated more than whites by a ratio of 5.6 to 1, slightly higher than the national average.

Here in Lane County, Sgt. Carrie Carver with the Lane County Sheriff’s office says that the sheriff’s office doesn’t track race when it comes to arrests and police contacts.

EW put in a public records request with Springfield for its contacts, arrests and incarcerations, which the police department is in the process of responding to, however interim Police Chief Rick Lewis tells EW, while arrests and use of force are tracked, if a person is pulled over or police make a contact but don’t arrest or cite the person that information is not tracked.

Lewis says that from his perspective, if people are pulled over for a traffic stop but not cited, being asked what race they are might seem offensive or lead to the impression a ticket is given or not given based on race.

In Eugene, EPD’s public information officer Melinda McLaughlin says the police officially began testing an iPhone app on Dec. 1, 2015, that would collect traffic stop data. She says, “A group of 12 of our officers collected data for six months to test the app.”

After six months, McLaughlin says EPD assessed the app for needed changes and continued testing for another six months. “We will next decide how to roll out the collection technology for the rest of the department. The project in 2015 focused solely on data collection technology as the first step.”

And according to the most recent 2013 police use of force review by the Eugene police auditor, “We found no pattern among individual officers using force against minorities.”

Eric Richardson, Eugene-Springfield NAACP president, says the issue of tracking race has kind of gotten the runaround, but he knows EPD Chief Pete Kerns has it “on his radar and moving in that direction.” 

Richardson also points to House Bill 2002, which passed in the Oregon Legislature in July 2015, as another positive step. The bill directs law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies and procedures prohibiting profiling by Jan. 1, 2016. 

At the same time, Richardson says, “There’s a lot to be desired when it comes to the interactions with people of color.” And he’d like to see race “as an issue that gets dealt with promptly as opposed to being on the bottom of the pile.” 

He says that the juvenile justice system tracks race a little better, “and if we go by that there is disproportionate contact” locally and statewide.