Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Judge withholds racial data

Profiling study kept secret in suit against city

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

University of Cincinnati researchers have completed their study of whether Cincinnati police target African-American motorists - but have been ordered by a federal judge not to disclose their findings.

A federal magistrate issued a gag order on the racial-profiling report Monday.

Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the city had argued against disclosure, saying the parties need additional time to analyze the report.

Under the order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz, the soonest the analysis could be released is 45 days.

The issue of racial profiling has been a central question in the city's police reform efforts. In May 2001 - a month after a police shooting in Over-the-Rhine led to riots - City Council required officers to record the race, gender and age of every person they came into contact with.

UC professor John Eck has been analyzing those 50,000 contact cards for two years in an effort to find out whether police improperly target African-Americans.

Since then, the data collection has been wrapped into the racial-profiling lawsuit settlement, also called the collaborative agreement.

The court's gag order came after City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee moved to make the information public. Chairman Pat DeWine said that because taxpayers paid for police to collect the data, they deserve to know what it says.

"The collaborative should not be used to insulate important information from the public," DeWine said. "The police have been collecting this data for too long without there being a public discussion about the value of it."

But Kenneth L. Lawson, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the findings should be kept under wraps until after the Nov. 4 City Council election.

"We don't want it to be used to further somebody's political agenda," he said.

Instead, lawyers for all sides - including the Cincinnati Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69 - should take time to decide what changes, if any, should be made in response to Eck's analysis.

"The findings are very complex. Let's say there's evidence that blacks are getting stopped more often than whites. Does that mean there's racial profiling?" Lawson said.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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