Columbia Police Department to Host Racial Profiling Discussion

Representatives from a local social justice coalition are hosting a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Columbia City Hall to discuss racial profiling in the Columbia Police Department.

By Thomas Koll (Columbia, Mo.)

In response to some Columbia residents’ concern that racial profiling is still an issue in the city, Police Department Analyst Jerry East will give a presentation while a panel of representatives, including Police Chief Ken Burton, lead community discussion. Officers receive some diversity training already.

Don Love of the Bias-free Columbia Coalition said this training makes them aware of the cultural differences, but does not address the issue of personal bias or correct its behavior.

“The training doesn’t really get down to the attitudes that officers have," Love said. "It deals with knowing about cultural diversity rather than changing an attitude towards someone in a minority.”

Love and his associates called for this meeting as a follow-up to a September meeting over the Missouri Attorney General’s 2010 report showing black drivers were three times more likely to be asked for a vehicle search when pulled over. Although the report showed a small drop in the number of black and Latino stops compared to whites from 2009, Love said a bias may remain in police officers’ treatment of minority drivers across the state.

“If the officers have a bias involving vehicle stops, then the bias isn’t going to go away just because they are dealing with citizens in another situation.”

A special training session for the department will bring in two retired officers from Kansas City on December 8 to continue addressing the issue. Love said his organization will focus next on understanding newly immigrated Muslims and hopefully something addressing the immigrant Latino population as well.

“We don’t mean to pick on the police particularly, but in point of fact, they are professional and by and large they do do a good job," Love said. "But they are a good place to begin working on bias because they are professional.”

Both the coalition and the police department invited citizens concerned with racial profiling to join the meeting this evening to share their views with the panel.