The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice recently released a statewide report listing arrests and summons numbers by demographic. While this report acknowledges a disparity in arrests, it makes absolutely no accusation of bias by any Colorado state or city agency, nor is any evidence presented of misconduct by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
The recent Gazette article entitled "Colorado Department of Public Safety" dated Dec. 27, 2016 states, without grounds, "Racial profiling is evidently flourishing in Colorado." This is an inaccurate and uneducated interpretation of raw data, and the CSPD cautions The Gazette and citizens against making such assumptions without background.
According to a news release by the Colorado Department of Public Safety announcing the report, "The study only provides data on an aggregate, statewide level and does not break down each category by city, county or judicial district. Additionally, while the study may reveal disparities within the criminal justice system, it does not seek to speculate on reasons for the disparities."
The Colorado Springs Police Department is disappointed in this article, since the reporter did not contact the authors of the study, representatives of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, or the Colorado Springs Police Department. Publication of such inflammatory statements without basis in fact or source is irresponsible and inflammatory. Misinterpretations of police data of this type only serve to increase tensions among community members, policy makers, and police.
The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice report also states that "Males represent about 50% of the state's population and 70-80% of arrests." (See page 8.) Based on The Gazette's methodology, we would expect an argument that police are biased against men. There is no suggestion that men and women should each account for 50 percent of arrests since that is the population demographic.
The point of explaining the limitations of this research is not to deny that implicit bias occurs. CSPD and other law enforcement agencies have long been sensitive to and have raised awareness of implicit bias, which is defined as "the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness" by the National Center for State Courts. Rather, we provide this information in the public interest to correct the erroneous conclusions published irresponsibly by the Gazette. Lorie Fridell, a well-known researcher on the topic of police bias wrote, "No one interpreting results based on census benchmarking - even adjusted census benchmarking - can claim they have proved the existence or lack of racially biased policing" (page 12). Good research in this field looks to develop a comparison group that represents people who should be arrested by police, absent bias. Only when comparing actual arrests to valid comparison groups can we know to what extent bias influences these decisions.
The research report required by SB 15-185 cannot answer the question, "What is the nature and extent of racially biased policing in Colorado?" At best, the results can be the starting point for community conversations or further research with better methodology at the local level.
The perception that policing is racially biased is important to address, even in the absence of evidence. Police agencies in Colorado, including the CSPD, have taken a number of important steps to mitigate bias through hiring practices, training, policies, and outreach to minority communities.
Equally important to these steps is our robust internal accountability system. In the infrequent event the CSPD receives a complaint of racial bias; the department thoroughly investigates the complaint and takes appropriate action if a CSPD policy violation is found.
Apparently in an attempt to back its unsupported allegations, The Gazette article cites two complaints against the CSPD. While the department cannot comment on the pending Ryan and Benjamin Brown case, it can and will correct the record on the complaint involving Matthew Talley.
The Colorado Springs Police Department conducted a thorough investigation of the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Talley. The evidence reviewed included body worn camera footage from the first responding officer. The investigation showed all officers followed department policy and treated Talley respectfully. The ACLU was allowed to view the body worn camera footage; and upon viewing the evidence, the ACLU abandoned the claim. The CSPD asked the ACLU to correct the record publicly, however, the ACLU declined. Given today's climate, the CSPD feels misinformation is harmful in police/citizen relationships and is hopeful that this column clarifies the inaccuracies.
The Colorado Springs Police Department remains committed to protecting and serving the Colorado Springs community.
Peter Carey is Colorado Springs police chief.