In what has been described by many as a "ground breaking" agreement, the Saint Paul Police Department, led by Chief William K. Finney and the Saint Paul Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led by its president Nathaniel Khaliq, have worked together to forge a contract that will help the police staff and community residents successfully address the issues of racial profiling and the application of biased police practices.
In 1999, the issue of racial profiling received national attention after reports of alleged racially-biased actions by the New Jersey State Police. The aftermath of those actions were the termination of the Superintendent of the State Police, the institution of a federal consent decree in the State of New Jersey and a national discussion, among law enforcement agencies, federal and state legislators and civil rights/civil liberties groups, about the reality of racial profiling.
These discussions involved many areas of concern on the parts of the parties involved, including; (1) impact of racial profiling on individuals and communities of color, (2) methods to measure the presence and extent of racial profiling actions within law enforcement agencies, (3) methods to prevent law enforcement agencies from utilizing techniques that are based on the use of racial profiles and (4) legal jeopardies that might befall law enforcement agencies accused of utilizing racial profiling techniques, from individual, class action and/or governmental lawsuits, as well as legislative mandates.
The State of Minnesota was not immune from these discussions. In April of 2000, the legislative session ended with prominent members of the executive and legislative branches of government, and many chief law enforcement executives throughout the sate, saying that racial profiling was not a problem in Minnesota. Of course, this pronouncement was not well received by the communities of color and civil rights and civil liberties organizations within the state. However, it was unclear on how the disparate viewpoints would be reconciled.
It was at this point that Chief Finney decided to take independent action within the City of Saint Paul. Based on conversations with representatives of the communities of color, throughout the preceding years, and his mission for the Department; "To be more responsive to and more reflective of the communities that we serve," he took two major internal steps in April of 2000.
The first step was to re-introduce and strengthen the Departments' policy regarding bias-based profiling. The purpose here was to reiterate to police officers that only behavior based observations should be used as initiators of police actions, and to stress that the use of race, ethnicity and/or gender as an initiating factor was strictly prohibited. The second step was to institute a data collection system that would gather information relative to all traffic stops and measure how the proportions of stops and searches of individuals and their vehicles compared along racial and gender categories.
The preliminary results of the data collection effort were released in January 2001. The data showed, in summary, that Blacks and Hispanics were both stopped and their persons and/or vehicles searched at a rate significantly higher than Whites. This information was used by the leadership of the Saint Paul Branch of the NAACP to engage the Community Relations Service of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist in an effort to mediate concerns between the African American Community and the Police Department.
After brief discussion, Chief Finney and Mr. Khaliq agreed to utilize a mediator from the DOJ. Four meetings, attended by senior administrative staff and bargaining unit representatives from the Police Department and members of the NAACP, were held from March 19 to June 19, 2001. The purpose of these meetings was to identify issues and concerns on both sides and to implement strategies and actions to deal with them. The result was a mediated agreement that was signed by all who were involved, on June 19, 2001.
The measures that were agreed to in this agreement can be summarized as follows:
- Steps to ensure that racial profiling does not occur.
- Steps to improve the operational effectiveness of the Saint Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.
- Steps to improve the communications and level of trust between the African American Community and the Police Department.
The detail of the eight page document will not be presented here. However, there are several modifications of past practice that are particularly significant. These modifications include; (1) a modification of the consent search policy, which includes a "Miranda" style warning, (2) the requirement for officers to provide personal business cards to persons with whom they have interaction or when requested, (3) the use of the NAACP and other organizations as an intake point for complaints from city residents and forward them to the Internal Affairs Unit, and (4) the development of educational and other targeted efforts to improve the level of understanding between the community and the police and to support community based crime prevention programs.
This agreement is a work product that was the result of the sincere efforts of many dedicated people. However, the most important factor to highlight in this successful endeavor is the leadership, courage and the willingness to open the process to involvement/input from outside the "usual" channels that was demonstrated by Chief Finney.
If one were to look at other attempts to confront this tremendously important and controversial issue and the remedies that have been implemented in other parts of the country, few if any would compare with the work done in Saint Paul. In going beyond the steps of policy modification and data collection (which still today, only a small proportion of the nation's law enforcement agencies have initiated voluntarily), Chief Finney has taken the unique step of obtaining the support and input from the police federation, both in the decision to collect data and in the activities relating to the mediation process. It is a rare situation that this level of trust and cooperation exists between the administration and the rank and file of a law enforcement agency.
However, an even greater example of courageous action is to sit down at the table with the members of a community who feels that they have a proper and legitimate grievance, listen to their concerns and then have them participate in constructing the solutions to those concerns. The process, in and of itself, signals that a positive outcome is not far away.
As was mentioned earlier, this agreement has been described as "ground breaking." We hope that it can serve as a model for other agencies relative to its outcome, the process that was used and the leadership and vision displayed by a Chief of Police.