Nation

Denver police to collect racial data on contacts

Denver Police Department officers headed out to their patrol car after role call for the swing shift in District 6 in downtown Denver.  Denver police will begin collecting information about the race and ethnicity of people they contact .

David Zalubowski/Associated Press/File 2016

Denver Police Department officers headed out to their patrol car after role call for the swing shift in District 6 in downtown Denver. Denver police will begin collecting information about the race and ethnicity of people they contact .

DENVER — Denver police will begin collecting information about the race and ethnicity of people they contact in response to recent protests and complaints about alleged racial bias in the ranks.

In announcing the new policy, Chief Robert White said it is difficult to determine whether racial profiling is an issue without the facts.

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‘‘Officers need to know and citizens need to know how everyone’s actions are going to be held accountable,’’ White told The Denver Post in an interview published Sunday. ‘‘Without it, we can’t prove anything one way or the other. That does not benefit the transparency or the credibility of the department.’’

For years, the department has resisted calls from the city’s minority communities to collect the data. It would be the first time in 14 years that the police force has tried to study racial bias among officers.

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The current climate in law enforcement demands that the step be taken, White said.

In Chicago, another protest was planned Sunday night after the release last week of a video showing city police shooting a black suspect, 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, as he fled in a car. Protests also were held there Friday and Saturday.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson suggested Saturday that an officer’s body camera wasn’t turned on when he fatally shot and killed O’Neal on July 28. He said the officer had received the camera only about a week before and was not proficient in using it. Some demonstrators suggested that the camera was turned off as part of a coverup.

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The Denver Police Department’s plan for collecting the information is still in the works, and officials had no details on how it would work.

White, who was hired in 2011, said he never has been opposed to collecting racial and ethnic data. But community activists say this a new position for the chief.

Activists said they have heard excuses from authorities for years, including that it would be too time-consuming and expensive to collect information about people in traffic or pedestrian stops.

‘‘If DPD was willing to collect demographic data all along, why was there a litany of voices from community groups, legislators, the Denver auditor, and independent monitor all pushing for them to collect it?’’ said Lisa Calderone, cochairwoman of the Colorado Latino Forum’s Denver chapter. ‘‘Because DPD refused to collect it.’’

During a state legislative committee meeting in 2015, large departments in Colorado, including Colorado Springs and Aurora, said they did not collect information on the race and ethnicity of people contacted by police.

Stephanie O’Malley, executive director of Denver’s safety department, said previously that asking people about their race could potentially turn otherwise peaceful interactions into volatile situations. O’Malley said she has since changed her mind.

“There has been outreach from members of the community to collaborate with us on the collection of data concerning law enforcement contacts and we are not adverse to having that happen,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We will explore ways to meet expectations while considering the impact of acquiring personal information from residents during their interactions with police officers.”

The calls for data collection increased after the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., on July 5 and Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb on July 6. Both were killed by police officers, and their deaths sparked another round of nationwide protests.

Among groups that have demanded that Denver police study racial profiling are Black Lives Matter 5280, the Colorado Latino Forum, The Denver Justice Project, the NAACP’s Denver chapter, the ACLU of Colorado, and Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The groups said blacks, Latinos, and American Indians are stopped and searched at disproportionate rates to white people.

All believe that blacks, Latinos, and American Indians are stopped and searched at disproportionate rates to white people.

“Community members know it exists because we live with it day in and day out,” said Alex Landau, a cofounder of the Denver Justice Project. “But the data isn’t collected so it’s easy to say it doesn’t exist.”

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