EPD’s dashboard program aims for transparency, falls short in demographic representation


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

An Evanston Police Department vehicle. An Evanston man was charged in connection with a sexual assault that occurred in June.

Cassidy Wang, Reporter

In an effort to increase police transparency, the Evanston Police Department recently launched a police dashboard program that displays data on police activity and categorizes incidents by race. However, demographic categorizations of people marked as “Hispanic” coming into contact with police are causing concerns with the accuracy of the data.

The data range from pat downs, which are categorized by race, to use of force, categorized by type. Evanston police Cmdr. Ryan Glew said the objective of the dashboard program is to create a level of transparency for the police department’s “day-in and day-out activities.”

“We want the community to trust what we say,” Glew said. “We want to give ourselves credibility in the community.”

According to the 2018 dashboard data, 419 field contacts where a pat down occurred involved black people, whereas 137 field contacts involved white people. Data showed that only three field contacts involved Hispanic people.

Glew said people are rightfully “very concerned” about these numbers. He said the lack of representation of Hispanic people in the data may not align with community members’ perceptions of what the numbers should be, especially with the categorization of field contacts by race.

“There have been some concerns voiced about if we’re accurately representing the racial makeup of the people that we’re coming in contact with, who we’re stopping, who we’re arresting, who our victims are,” Glew said.

A May 27 statement from the Citizens’ Network of Protection — a group dedicated to police reform and civilian oversight — echoed these concerns. The statement claimed the demographic data is incorrect and the organization is hoping to receive the correct numbers for black, white, Hispanic, Asian and other non-white arrests, citations and street stops.

Glew said possible misrepresentations of the demographic data comes from the categorization of Hispanic people, which agencies within the state and FBI considers an ethnicity, not a race. The police department has to categorize Hispanic people as either white Hispanic or black Hispanic because of federal precedent.

“But when the data is presented in that fashion, it looks like we’re underrepresenting the Hispanics that we’re coming into contact with,” Glew said. “That’s the concern: How are we required to report it, how are we recording it and is that going to satisfy what the public wants to see?”

Glew said this “visual underrepresentation” is consistent across the entire dashboard.

He said the police department will have to reconcile race and ethnicity to provide more correct data going forward.

“How this is categorized, how this is collected is probably not consistent with people’s perception of what it should be,” Glew said. “We’re adhering to what an agency tells us, so this is based on race, not based on ethnicity.”

Austin Spillar, a member of CNP, said in an email to The Daily that the incorrect demographic data is problematic for several reasons. Because the data gives an inaccurate portrayal of who is being stopped by EPD, there is no clear way to determine whether racial profiling or bias was involved.

Studies demonstrate that misrepresentation of Latinx people can create problems within the criminal legal system. According to the Urban Institute, few states include Latinx people in most criminal justice data. Without comprehensive data, policymakers, community members and advocates cannot understand the effects of mass incarceration on Latinx people specifically, while states that only count people as “black” or “white”’ likely label most of their Latinx prison population as “white.” This has the potential to artificially inflate the number of “white” people in prison and mask the racial disparity in the criminal justice system, according to the study.

Spillar said a reasonable inference can be made that police departments don’t designate “Hispanic” as a category in order to inflate numbers to show there is no racial bias. Whether the statistics involve stop and frisk, traffic stops, or marijuana arrests and citations, he said the numbers have consistently shown evidence of racial bias within EPD over the years.

Such inaccurate data would also prevent community members who are concerned about racial profiling or racial bias in policing from holding authorities accountable, Spillar said.

“The implications of not having the correct demographic data is it doesn’t give us an accurate representation of who the Evanston Police Department is stopping, coming into contact with, arresting,” Spillar said in an email.

With inaccurate statistics, Spillar said it is difficult to correctly identify the problem and therefore correctly identify a solution.

Spillar also claimed to find other inaccuracies in the dashboard data. In the arrest data, he said he found duplicate entries recorded on Jan. 16, 2019. He said the police uses these statistics to determine what areas to patrol the most. Inflated numbers can lead to more unwarranted police presence, he said.

Data on field contact cards, which are completed each time an officer conducts an investigatory street stop, is incorrect, Spillar found. The dashboard shows that just over 1,000 contact cards were issued in 2017, whereas a March 2018 EPD report shows that 1,542 contact cards were given to adults and 196 were given to juveniles.

Spillar called on EPD to present more data on traffic stops and contact cards that would answer questions — including whether or not there was a subsequent search or if contraband was found during a stop. After a 2014 University of North Carolina study revealed Evanston police were seven times more likely to search a black driver than a white one, Spillar said this information can be an important indication of racial profiling.

“They have all this data on hand and I don’t think they’re sharing it all,” Spillar said. “We need to know if contraband was found.”

Spillar said this information is important because if police officers are stopping people of color and rarely finding anything, their policies may not be beneficial. Instead, this could potentially result in the community not trusting trust the police.

As a whole, Spillar said EPD should provide more data on the dashboard.

“Data is at the heart of transparency and transparency is at the heart of building trust,” Spillar said.

The dashboard data visualizes discrepancies in numbers from 2017 to 2019, showing trends in police activity and whether there has been an uptick.

Across racially categorized data, such as criminal offenders and pat downs, numbers for black people are significantly higher. In 2018, 2,438 criminal offenders were categorized as black, whereas 1,286 were white. In Evanston, 66 percent of residents are white, whereas 18 percent are black or African-American, according to the most recent census data.

In certain data, Glew said black people are overrepresented in comparison to the overall population in Evanston.

“That’s simple math,” he said.

Glew said the police department is actively working to determine the reasons behind such numbers.

While the dashboard serves to provide greater transparency on police activity to Evanston residents, Glew said presenting data on the city’s website is not the final step.

“It’s not a magic wand,” Glew said. “It’s not the silver bullet. It is one of the tools we are going to use to increase transparency and make what we’re doing accessible to the public.”

Spillar said the dashboard does not go far enough.

He said he would like for the police department to take a more proactive role, analyzing the data and not leaving it up to interpretation for the public.

“They’re not highlighting where racial bias and racial profiling typically exist in the police department,” Spillar said. “It’s one thing just to have a bunch of data, but if you’re not using that data to craft better policies or find problems, then it’s really not very effective.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @cassidyw_

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