COLUMBUS — A state certification process will require that all Ohio police departments for the first time collect data on the race and gender of people they pull over in traffic stops or take aside for questioning, in an effort to reduce potential police bias against suspects.
Many large departments already collect such data including the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which publishes annual numbers on its website. But hundreds of smaller departments will now collect the data as well.
Since most people’s interaction with police comes during traffic stops, it’s important to know who’s being pulled over, said Ronnie Dunn, an urban affairs professor at Cleveland State University who helped develop the standard.
“It helps provide transparency, as well as accountability,” Dunn said. “It helps us understand exactly whom the police are having interactions with.”
The standard was approved Feb. 17 by a police relations board created by Republican Gov. John Kasich following protests over fatal shootings of unarmed black suspects by white officers in Ohio and nationally, including the 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
The standard deals with what’s known as bias-free policing. It takes effect in about a year. It’s the seventh standard the board has approved, following policies on use of force, use of deadly force, recruiting and hiring.
The standards don’t cover individual officer training, which is overseen by the Attorney General’s Office. Rather, they require agencies to have policies in place at the departmental level, which includes evidence officers have been told about the policy.
There’s no punishment for Ohio agencies that don’t comply, other than appearing on a list to be published each March of departments opting out of certification. Unlike Ohio, about half of U.S. states have laws making such data collection mandatory, Dunn said.
The state is hoping local communities will take departments not on the list to task and force them to adhere.
The data has to be analyzed carefully and compared with racial demographics of particular areas, said Mike Navarre, chief of the Oregon Police Department in suburban Toledo and the former Toledo police chief. Stops might not always mirror the statewide percentages of minorities depending on where stops are made, said Navarre, a supporter of collecting the data.
The numbers can help agencies identify patterns of profiling, but can also protect departments wrongly accused of profiling by giving them data to refute claims, Navarre said.
“It’s better to have it and not need it, than not have it all,” he said.
Not all departments are in favor of data collection. Jeffrey Scott, chief of the 32-officer force at Notre Dame College in suburban Cleveland, said correctly identifying the races of drivers can be difficult, and mistakes can lead to an officer being unfairly accused of profiling.
“It could be a good officer doing good work and doing it correctly, but they’re inaccurately being flagged,” Scott said. Nevertheless, his department will voluntarily conduct the data collection.
The Ohio Highway Patrol has collected the races and genders of drivers stopped by troopers since 2000. Fourteen percent of drivers stopped in 2015 were black, according to the most recent patrol data. Census figures say 13 percent of Ohioans are black. Troopers also recorded 3,700 drivers listed as “other.”
Supervisors randomly review video of troopers’ stops each month, and also run monthly and quarterly reports examining troopers’ race and gender data, said Lt. Robert Sellers.
“The public expects professional policing and these are the things we’ve put in place to provide professional services to our residents and to everybody traveling on Ohio’s roadways,” Sellers said.