2005 National Symposium on Racial Profiling

Trust emerged as the clear theme of this year's Racial Profiling Conference. Law enforcement leaders from agencies that had dealt with racial profiling allegations or court orders reiterated that theme when discussing mistakes they had made. Panelists explained that the process of regaining the public's trust can be long and painful. They found out the hard way that even when data collection proved that their agencies were not guilty of racial profiling, anecdotes by citizens held a lot more weight in the media and an ugly public perception often remained. Only through a drawn out process of crisis management could that image be repaired.

The loss of public trust is dealt with frequently in corporate America. So much so that Kellogg Management Professor Daniel Diermeier makes a living teaching executives what to do when things go wrong. During his well-received keynote speech, Diermeier discussed the details of a crisis faced by Mercedes Benz in Europe. Although the story had nothing to do with law enforcement, participants said that racial profiling allegations often played out in a similar way. The following is a short version of the Mercedes crisis and how it was managed successfully.

In Europe, parking is difficult to find. As a response to the problem, Mercedes built a new urban minivan that was small enough to park but safe enough to drive on the same roads with bigger cars. The company had designed special safety features to make sure the car would survive front end crash tests. When an enterprising reporter conducted a safety test that caused the car to roll-over, the company at first tried to point out that the test was not conducted properly. Mercedes engineers tested and re-tested and maintained that the car was safe. No one seemed to hear them. The story of the bad test spread throughout the media. Despite the fact that the story was not necessarily scientifically accurate, the perception stuck. Mercedes had to find a way to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

Even though there was no evidence that the car was unsafe, Mercedes recalled it, redesigned it and recovered. The recovery involved launching a campaign about how Mercedes had re-invented safety with that very same car. The Mercedes executives felt that the expense of creating what was probably an unnecessary fix was well worth it, especially when the Mercedes reputation was at stake. Conference participants immediately connected with that analogy, many asking to know more about how to turn a crisis into an opportunity.

Many speakers reminded participants that it is important to involve the community in the process of traffic stop data collection from the beginning. Many had set up task forces involving community leaders, police union representatives and officers on the street. Everyone was able to get their concerns expressed before the data was collected and released. They also stressed the importance of using an objective research partner, such as an area university, to help insure data credibility.

Those who felt that they dealt successfully with the issue of racial profiling made sure that they created a clearly written policy against racial profiling, a complaint process and training and disciplinary policies.

While most panelists said they felt that data collection was not a panacea, they did feel that it plays an important role in preventing racial profiling. Michael Smith, Professor of Criminology, University of South Carolina, explained the process of internal benchmarking in weeding out the few bad apples. Jeff Ridgeway, Statistician, Rand Corporation outlined a process of analysis used in Oakland that supported the police department's claim that officers did not practice racial profiling.

Kingston, Ontario Police Chief William Closs said that his agency is the only one in Canada to collect data on traffic stops. Even though most Canadian agencies deny that racial profiling exists, he realized that a perception problem existed after his officers pulled a gun on the same innocent teenager during two different traffic stops. As a result, his agency holds town meetings on a regular basis and he views data collection as a bridge to win back public trust.

Wesley Skogan, Professor, Northwestern University, Institute for Policy Research, predicted that immigration would be the major issue for law enforcement in the 21st century. Skogan studied the Chicago Police Department for ten years and specializes in recognizing the unique needs of Hispanic immigrants. He said that Chicago police now realize that many immigrants come from a country where police support oppressive regimes. Therefore, it is particularly difficult to win their trust. Language and cultural miscommunications can also create problems. He said that mass media campaigns did not seem to work to recruit Hispanics for community policing meetings, but rather that one-on-one contact works the best.

Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas got a tremendous response to his practical approach to the issue. Serpas says he listens to community leaders but also urges his officers to learn the neighborhood at the front porch. Serpas called for a back-to-basics approach. "It's police work to know the names of the people in your neighborhood, their kids, their family names," said Serpas. "They'll trust you because you stopped long enough to know who they were." Serpas says he counts on that trust for greater intelligence gathering, and the community has supported his officers in times of crisis because of that trust.

Our thanks to the many law enforcement executives who shared their case studies, RAND Corporation for partnering with NUCPS, the researchers who shared their timely information and the hundreds of participants from the United States and Canada who were open and honest in their discussions during NUCPS's Fourth National Symposium on Racial Profiling. Special thanks to Keynote Speaker Professor Daniel Diermeier for his excellent presentation, Leading Under Pressure, to Professor David Harris for his luncheon address and to Harley Davidson Motor Company for sponsoring the luncheon.

Symposium Schedule and Speakers

Name Title Video Clip
Opening Address
Philip J. Cline Superintendent, Chicago Police Department video
Thomas F. Gibbons Dean, Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies
Jack Riley Associate Director, RAND Corp.
Tim Martin Secretary, Illinois Department of Transportation
Keynote Speech
Daniel Diermeier IBM Distinguished Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management video
Racial Profiling - Historical Overview
Alexander Weiss, Ph.D. Director, Northwestern University Center for Public Safety video
Strategies for Internal Control
Robert McNeilly Chief, Pittsburgh Police Department video
The Cincinnati Experience
Cindy Combs Lieutenant Colonel, Cincinnati Police Department video
Richard Jerome Cincinnati Court Monitor video
S. Gregory Baker Executive Manager of Police Relations, Cincinnati Police Department video
Jeremy Wilson Associate Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation


The State Police Experience
Lowell Porter Director, Washington Traffic Safety Commission video
Boyd W. Butler Chief, Research and Development, Illinois State Police video
Suzan Cogswell Research Administrator, Ohio State Highway Patrol video
John Fogerty Chief, Inland Division, California Highway Patrol video
Michael Finamore Lieutenant Colonel, Ohio State Highway Patrol video
Policing and the Hispanic Community
Wesley G. Skogan Professor, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University  
The Community Perspective
Karen Narasaki Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium  
Adam Schwartz Staff Attorney, ACLU  
Hilary O. Shelton Director, Washington Bureau, NAACP  
Bishop Filipe Teixeira, OFSJC. St. Martin De Porres Catholic Church, Brockton, Massachusetts  
Lashawn Warren Legislative Counsel, ACLU  
Ana Yanez-Correa Policy Director, League of United Latin American Citizens of Texas  
The Oakland Experience
Ronald Davis Captain, Oakland Police Department


Jeffrey Grogger Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago video
Greg Ridgeway Statistician, RAND Corporation video
Crime Control and Racial Profiling
Ronal Serpas Chief, Nashville Police Department video
Internal Benchmarking
Michael R. Smith Professor, Department of Criminology, University of South Carolina


The Highland Park Experience
Daniel Dahlberg Chief, Highland Park Police Department (Retired)


Steven M. Elrod Partner, Holland and Knight LLP
David M. Limardi City Manager, Highland Park
Paul Shafer Chief, Highland Park Police Department
Community Expectations After Data Collection
William J. Closs Kingston Police Department, Ontario, Canada


Robert Jones Chief, Gurnee Police Department; President, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police