The results of the Davenport Police Department's traffic stop study are in and while the numbers show a slight increase in percentage for stops of African-Americans, the data does not necessarily indicate increased bias.
St. Ambrose University professor Chris Barnum presented his findings to members of the Davenport Citizens Advisory Panel and police command staff Monday afternoon at the League of United Latin American Citizens Hall in Davenport.
The study compares racial characteristics of drivers during stops and examines the disproportionality, or the difference between police data and a benchmark it is compared with, to indicate if there may be bias.
"For the department, what we found is the average level of disproportionality is about 7 percentage points above our benchmark throughout all areas of the city," Barnum said. "That's been pretty consistent given a point or two for every year we've looked at it."
Barnum, a 25-year veteran of the Cedar Rapids Police Department, has conducted the study for the past five years and said the findings were not statistically significant, which he defined as 20 percentage points or above.
Greater emphasis was placed at looking at where the majority of stops took place, which was defined as south of Locust Street between Marquette and Bridge streets.
This area is also where the police department receives the vast majority of shots-fired calls and reports of violent crime.
Besides looking at the police department as a whole, the study evaluates three units in the department: traffic, patrol and NETS.
Consistent with previous years, the traffic division continued to illustrate little to no disproportionality with this year's numbers showing only a 1 percentage point difference.
The patrol division, which conducted more than 57 percent of traffic stops, increased from 6 to 10 percent.
NETS, or Neighborhoods Energized to Succeed, saw a decrease in disproportionality from 20 percent to 12 percent over the last year. But while its numbers are consistently the highest, Barnum said there were a number of factors.
He said that NETS officers typically work in neighborhoods with higher minority concentrations and higher levels of crime, but when NETS officers take different assignments, their levels of disproportionality have shown to decrease.
"It's not like there's a bunch of racist officers working in NETS," Barnum said. "That I'm pretty confident in saying."
To assistant in improving accountability, Police Chief Paul Sikorski said the department has implemented a system that includes traffic stop audits and reports from the bottom supervisors all the way to top management, but for the most part have found officers to be "incredibly professional."
"We've found great coaching and training opportunities at that first level before things happen and officers may think this is an OK way to conduct their business," Sikorski said.
With study evolving to cover more than traffic stops, Citizens Advisory Panel member Larry Roberson said it would like the city to help identify youth in the most crime-ridden areas and help them find employment.
"Most people are not bad people, but they get caught up in bad things because they don't have things to do," Roberson said.
The biggest change from previous studies was the rapidly decreasing number of traffic stops, which has dropped almost 50 percent in five years to 5,167 stops.
While Sikorksi said the decline could be attributed to a number of factors, he said the department has made changes to how it polices the community.
"One of the things we used to do several years ago is saturate an area and stop any car for any violation," Sikorski said. "The thought was back then was if this is a crime-ridden area, the more often we are in there and our lights are flashing for these violations, the crime will go down."
Sikorski and Barnum also said the decrease in stops could be attributed to the "Ferguson effect," referring to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, and pressure on officers having their decision-making questioned.
"They are scrutinized, videotaped, antagonized and egged on to perform in poor way, not all the time, but that happens,"Sikorski said. "It's a very difficult time for our officers to be police officers."