City leaders to consider joining study to determine racial breakdown of police stops and searches
Years since the idea was originally proposed, a study could soon be underway to determine the rates at which local law enforcement agencies pull over motorists of color.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider entering into an agreement with Douglas County, Eudora, Baldwin City and the University of Kansas to fund and conduct the study. The city’s share of the costs would be $84,000 over two years, and funding for the study has already been included in the city’s budget for 2019.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which was established by the county commission in 2016, is recommending the study. The council has been researching disproportionate minority contact in Douglas County’s criminal justice system for the past two years, according to a letter from the council.
Criminal Justice Coordinator Robert Bieniecki said the council’s recommendation comes in part because African-Americans are disproportionately represented in the population at the Douglas County Jail. Bieniecki said the study will look at the racial breakdown of motorist and pedestrian stops, as well as compare the nature of those stops and whether searches are completed. Bieniecki said once the study is complete, all the law enforcement agencies will have a process to continue to collect and analyze the racial breakdown of stops.
“So this is not just a study to say how we look today or in the next year, but it’s to implement a process for ongoing study,” Bieniecki said.
Douglas County is the lead agency on the project and has entered into a contract with a group from Northeastern University to perform the study, according to a memo to the City Commission. As part of the two-year study, the Northeastern University group will assist the law enforcement agencies in Douglas County to develop and implement a program for documenting stops, analyze the data collected to determine if disproportionalities exist, and make recommendations to address any disproportionate contact.
Bieniecki said Douglas County jail records indicate that African-Americans represented 18.5 percent of the jail’s bookings last year. Of that 18.5 percent, 12.3 percent were county residents and 6.2 percent were out of county residents. Those figures are disproportionally high considering that African-Americans only make up 4.6 percent of the population in Douglas County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The idea to conduct the study was proposed a couple of years ago by former Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib, who retired in June 2017. Regarding the delay in moving the study forward, Bieniecki said that the idea was put on hold once Khatib retired but reinitiated once Chief Gregory Burns Jr. joined the department. Bieniecki said that Douglas County, Eudora, Baldwin City and KU have already agreed to the contract, so the city’s participation will be the last authorization required.
The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.