October 7, 2013
The Urbana Police Department (UPD) has been reporting traffic stop data to the State of Illinois for nine years, 2004 through 2012. City data trends and patterns of traffic law enforcement can now be discerned and documented by race. A troubling and undeniable fact is that significant racial disparities reappear year after year regarding traffic law enforcement of African-American drivers. For example, although African-American drivers compose 14%-16% of the driving public, they composed approximately 30%-38% of the stops conducted by the UPD each of the nine years. No other racial driving group in the City of Urbana comes close to this level of disparity; rather their percent of all stops is consistently at or below their percent of the driving public.
Without going into great detail here, disparities involving African-American drivers repeatedly exist year after year in citation rates, number of consent searches, and number of dog sniff searches. Aside from the pure injustice of racial disparities, the negative impact of these disparities translates into an inequitable loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in citations, hundreds of hours of disrupted personal time, and strained police/community relations.
Solving this problem will take more effort than the city has shown to date. Addressing it internally has resulted in little improvement. The city must allow for more direct community involvement and participation to help find the appropriate responses and actions needed to resolve this problem.
Alexander Weiss, Ph.D. Project Director of the IDOT data collection, stated in the initial 2004 Report: “the system will provide a method for serious community-based introspection” and “be a useful instrument to help frame this important discussion and can provide a framework for accountability and community participation”.
In his July 19th Trayvon Martin speech to the nation, President Obama included the following comment: “When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.”
As concerned citizens and active local community organizations we are asking you, our elected city representatives, for more opportunities for direct community participation and a new way forward in police-community relations. This new approach will enable the community to have a dialogue about potential racial bias and develop together ways to further strengthen the Urbana Police Department.
The public expects our police department to enforce traffic laws impartially, fairly, and equitably regardless of the driver’s race.
Therefore, we are making two requests of the Mayor and City Council:
1. To schedule a Special Study Session of the City Council between October 29th and November 15th to present, discuss, and review the IDOT traffic data. This would allow adequate time for staff, the city council, and the public to be notified and to prepare information, comments and questions for the study session.
2. To create, support, and fund an Ad Hoc Traffic Stop Data Committee. This committee would meet to study the data, policies, and policing procedures involving traffic stops in more detail. They would be charged to research and prepare a set of recommendations to address the racial disparities found in Urbana’s traffic stop data. The committee should consist of at least 30% African-American representation and could be composed of members from each of the signatory organizations, general community members appointed by the mayor, two representatives from the UPD, city support staff, and council representation if desired.
We encourage the City of Urbana to take a proactive approach of engaging the community in helping to address this problem. We thank you for your time, consideration and service to our community.
Belden Fields Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice
Stephen Portnoy Champaign County ACLU Chapter
Patricia Avery NAACP Chapter of Champaign County
Melinda Carr The Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana & Vicinity
Barbara Wysocki League of Women Voters of Champaign County
Ricky Baldwin Central Illinois Jobs with Justice
2004-2012 Urbana and State of Illinois Traffic Stop Bar Graph
2004-2012 Cumulative Summary of Urbana Traffic Stops by Racial Group
2012 Urbana and State of Illinois Traffic Stop Summary