Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Traffic tickets, race and the facts

The Kansas City Star recently published an article and editorial about the racial breakdown in traffic tickets in Kansas City, Mo. First and foremost, I want to be clear that we welcome public scrutiny. We want to hear from the people we serve about what they think we’re doing well and what we can improve upon. We’re also constantly analyzing data to see where we need improvement, additional training and/or amendments to our policies and procedures.

Numerically, whites received more traffic tickets in 2017 in Kansas City, Mo. But proportional to their population, yes, 
African-Americans received more tickets. That’s something we continually evaluate and use that analysis to deploy our resources. This disparity is not just an issue with Kansas City but with police departments around the country.

In their story, The Star sorted their ticket data by the zip code of where the person receiving the ticket lives, not where the tickets were issued. The zip code of where the ticket is issued is not recorded on most police citations – just the address – so they can’t be sorted that way. (So we could issue a ticket to someone by KCI who lives in the 64130 zip code, but we wouldn’t know that at the time of the stop.) We’re not sure of the methodology the Star reporters used to analyze the data in their Sunday article, but I would be happy to share our data on tickets issued by race in 2017. This was pulled from our e-ticketing system:

Total citations: 115,134

Tickets by race
African-American – 41,961
White – 43,801
American Indian or Alaskan Native – 66
Asian or Pacific Islander – 758
Unknown – 2,074

The remaining 26,474 tickets were parking tickets. When those are issued, we don’t know the race of the person receiving the ticket.

KCPD also captures data about whether officers knew the race of the driver prior to stopping a car. This is not required data, but we think it’s important. Our data shows that officers did not know the race of the driver they had stopped when they pulled the vehicle over 98.6 percent of the time. Think about it – an officer clocks a car speeding from a quarter-mile away – he or she has no chance to see the driver.

Even so, we would expect higher ticket numbers to be issued in the areas of the urban core most impacted by violent crime in 2017. Interim Chief David Zimmerman deployed Traffic Enforcement crews to several zones along the Prospect Avenue Corridor to combat spiking violent crime, homicides and traffic fatalities. We experienced 99 traffic fatalities in 2017, the most since 1980. Interim Chief Zimmerman explained this in a blog at the time we started the initiative. The zones were determined by a well-known intelligence-led policing strategy called DDACTS – Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety. Those zones were in the zip codes cited in the Star’s article as having the highest numbers of residents receiving tickets. We would expect them to because we increased police presence there to combat violent crime and make it safer for residents. More officers in the area led to more officers to see traffic violations. (Traffic fatalities are at 25 year-to-date, compared to 34 at this time last year.)

It’s something of a Catch-22. With violent crime spiking, police were accused of not doing enough. Then we deployed extra resources to areas experiencing the most violence, and now we’re accused of “over-policing,” as you’ll see in inquiries from the Star reporter below.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Municipal Court data cited in the Star's article is not the same as stop data. We rely on the stop data we compile for the Missouri Attorney General to help us identify any potential bias and to address it in our training. That actually shows us how many drivers of every race we pull over. Our 2017 stop data will post on the Attorney General’s web site no later than June 1. Feel free to check out our 2016 data. Our disparity index for African-Americans is lower than the rest of the state. We continually review this rate against other departments and against our own department over prior years.

Despite the Star article’s focus on the fines and warrants that arise from Municipal Court, there was no description of Municipal/Traffic Court procedures, no statement from a judge, and no comment from a neutral attorney or public defender. There was no mention of the Court’s warrant amnesty days, payment plans, or diversion opportunities. Much can be resolved simply by residents showing up to court. I highly encourage anyone struggling with traffic fines and warrants to contact the court to see how the issues can be resolved.

Finally, I’d like to address how this article played out from our end, and why the Star’s statement that we provided no comment is false.

The Star first contacted Media Unit commander and public information officer Captain Lionel Colón by e-mail at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15. The reporter stated they’d gotten statistics (they did not say from where), and then asked these questions:

“1. Why are African Americans being assigned tickets at such a disproportionate rate?
2. Why does the 64130 zip code account for such a disproportionate amount of tickets?
3. Some have interpreted this data as demonstrating a pattern of ‘over-policing’ and targeting of AA motorists by the KCPD. What is the department's response to that?”

Captain Colón responded early the next morning asking what the data were so we could review it in order to properly answer their questions. The Star declined to provide the data, other than directing us to public information from Municipal Court. They refused to say with whom they worked at Municipal Court to obtain the data or what kind of dataset they’d requested. Captain Colón said it would be irresponsible for him to speak to the data without seeing it.

Over the next few days, we worked to try to extract our own ticket data from 2017 by race and set up an appointment with leaders at Municipal Court to compare. Captain Colón maintained daily e-mail contact with the Star during that time.

On Friday, May 18, we told the reporter that since we could not see the data the Star used to make responsible and informed comments, we were working to pull the data ourselves. We told him there were several other large-scale public information requests that had been submitted previously from other organizations that – to be fair to everyone – needed to be addressed first. The reporter responded that it was too late, anyway, and the article would run on Sunday. The Star then reported that KCPD declined to comment, which is false. We requested the Star correct their statement, “Police did not respond to the Star’s request for comments to this article,” and they declined. Daily e-mail conversation between KCPD and reporters and editors is not a “no comment” situation. “No comment” is not a response that we give. Sometimes we have to protect the integrity of an investigation and can’t say much, and other times – as is the case here – we need more time to review a large amount of information (that wasn’t even made available to us for review). Just to pull that information ourselves took more time than the Star allotted us for making a statement on it.

In summary, the Star reporters gave the police department 2.5 days to respond to reams of data they wouldn’t show us. Members of the Star have had the opportunity to review this data since February 2018, according to Municipal Court.

Again, we welcome scrutiny. We are accountable to the people of Kansas City. Some examples of how we hold ourselves accountable are the racial stop data we provide to the Missouri Attorney General and the monthly reports on crime and police activity we deliver publicly to the Board of Police Commissioners. We are obliged to provide fair police service to everyone, and we strive to do that every day. We also have an obligation and responsibility to address crime and provide public safety, which includes enforcement. So we welcome scrutiny, but the KCPD and the people of Kansas City deserve to have an authentic and informed discussion on this topic. 

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

With your help, we've enhanced our response to threats against schools

Since my previous blog on mass shooting threats, I wanted to update you on what’s been happening regarding this in Kansas City. After the horrific shootings at the high school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, school threats came pouring in across the metro. As far as we can tell, there have been 21 verifiable incidents involving threats of mass violence since Feb. 14 in Kansas City, Mo. Twenty of the 21 were directed at schools. We immediately investigated and followed up on every one of them and have implemented new practices to ensure these types of threats don’t slip through the cracks. We would not have been able to do any of it without the community’s vigilance and reporting.

We started a new notification system to ensure the right people on the department can start tracking down suspects as quickly as possible. And because they were so numerous, we even created a new report category in our records management system in April for these types of terroristic threats to increase our ability to track case progress and accurately reflect the number of incidents we’ve encountered.

Let me share an example of how we handled one of these incidents. Someone at one of our high schools notified police of a possible threat of violence they’d learned about the previous day. The person had heard students were going to bring a gun after school to confront other students on April 12. Police quickly converged on the school just before dismissal. One of the officers spotted the two juveniles who purportedly made the threat walking purposefully toward the front of the school with what appeared to be firearms. Four officers moved in and stopped the two teenagers. They recovered a loaded gun from each of them and took them into custody, stopping who knows what kinds of violence.

Most of the people who have made these threats are juveniles. The majority of their families that we’ve encountered have been very supportive and helpful in KCPD’s efforts to intervene and prevent school violence. Although many of these juveniles have been taken into custody and charged with making terroristic threats, KCPD is doing more than just enforcement-based response. Our social workers and Crisis Intervention Team officers are working with them and their families to ensure they’re receiving the help they need. Some have struggled with mental illness, and we’ve worked to connect them to treatment.

As I said in my post after the Parkland shooting, the protection of children is one of our top priorities. But we must be aware of threats of violence everywhere, from a country music concert to a Waffle House. Our prevention, notification, investigation and enforcement activities remain the same for all potential threats of mass violence. But we need your help. If you hear or see any threats of violence against one person or a whole building full of people, please call 911 immediately. (Please do not notify us via social media. That’s not monitored 24/7, nor can we dispatch from there.) We’re ready to respond. From our perspective, this successful police-community partnership already has prevented violence at schools in Kansas City.

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