Students talk racial profiling in DPS alerts

By Robbie Austin, For the Daily
Published November 13, 2011

The issue of racial profiling in University crime alerts took center stage at a University town hall meeting on Friday.

University students and Ann Arbor residents gathered at the University Law School to discuss the relation of safety, campus climate and diversity on campus. The event — chaired by Rackham student David Green, the political action chair of Students of Color of Rackham — focused on racism and social justice at the University, with an emphasis on racial profiling.

One of the key issues discussed was the use of racial descriptions in the University’s Department of Public Safety crime alerts. Of the 22 crime alerts released by DPS between Jan. 1, 2011 and Nov. 9, 2011, 12 incidents occurred off campus and nine took place on campus, according to data released by DPS. Of these 22 alerts, 11 specifically identified the skin color of the suspect as white, five as black, one as darker skinned, one as hispanic, one as tan, one as olive and two had no race information.

Philosophy Prof. Elizabeth Anderson said information about race is not needed in crime alerts because it doesn’t add any information to the description.

“There is no value added in the description (of race),” Anderson said. “It reinforces the legitimacy of spreading stereotypes and damages the reputation of black men.”

The speakers argued that racial descriptors apply to broad groups of people on campus and therefore generate fear of these groups. Anderson said innocent people fitting the racial description are negatively impacted by the wording in DPS alerts.

University alum Walter Lacy and Rackham student Gbenga Olumolade, an e-board liaison for SCOR, described their personal experiences with what they regarded as racial profiling by police.

Lacey told the audience he was pointed out by the police for stealing something that had recently been reported missing. According to Lacey, he was detained by police for 45 minutes though he had not stolen anything. Lacey said he felt “a lack of respect” in the situation.

Olumolade also described a situation in which he was questioned by DPS officers because he broadly fit the description of a suspect in a crime alert.

DPS Chief Greg O’Dell then addressed the crowd and pointed out that the University must adhere to federal requirements when issuing crime alerts. The guidelines mandate the inclusion of “all information that would promote safety and that would aid the prevention of similar crimes," the guidelines state.

DPS also issues alerts for incidents that have occurred in areas of the Ann Arbor Police Department’s jurisdiction near campus.

Another attendee of the meeting asked about a DPS crime alert in which a suspect was described as having dreadlocks or being bald. O’Dell responded, “Would it be the right decision to put out nothing even though the descriptions are conflicting?”

According to O’Dell, DPS has to include all information about a case — race included.

However, O’Dell pointed out that AAPD has policies to prohibit racial profiling, including writing, physical and psychological tests which are administered to prospective officers.