GFPD releases annual reports 2015-2019, addresses concerns over race and traffic stops
In response to community discussion about race and policing, the Great Falls Police Department has posted its annual reports from 2015-2019 on the city website.
These documents have been available to the public if requested, but were not previously posted to the city website though some other city departments post their annual reports online.
City Manager Greg Doyon said the decision to post the reports was based in part on community requests and also after he provided a memo to City Commissioners on police accountability and referenced the annual reports, the memo generated requests from commissioners for copies of the report and soon thereafter, both elected officials and the public were asking for access or publicly posting the reports.
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Commissioners receive hard copies of the report annually, Doyon said, and “I have not had any specific concerns with prior reports nor has the GFPD identified any specific trends or concerns. I do not recall any specific concerns coming from the community regarding racial disparity in traffic spots.”
Doyon said that the GFPD had been reluctant to publicly post the reports because they may contain information about ongoing investigations, but the department will reformat the report in future years so as to no include that type of information.
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The annual reports are created with information compiled by each of the five bureaus within GFPD: Patrol Services Bureau, Investigative Services Bureau, Support Services Bureau, Records Bureau and the Communication Services Bureau.
There is an additional document posted, a memo from GFPD Chief Dave Bowen, that he has asked the public to read before viewing the annual reports since it’s in response to community questions regarding traffic stop and citation data.
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In his memo, Bowen writes that there have been questions about the number of traffic stops conducted on minority groups, specifically the concern that there are too many stops and citations issues to Native Americans as compared to their population numbers within the community.
The annual reports have historically used the demographic numbers from the 2010 Census, though the 2014 report uses data from the 2012 American Community Survey, which is also data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
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Bowen wrote that upon further review of the data and discussion with community groups, officials have discovered that the Native American population “has been grossly underrepresented in our community.”
Bowen is referring to Native Americans as American Indians and Alaskan Natives and in the 2010 Census, the population in Cascade County was 3,019. But, Bowen wrote that they’ve discovered, that the local population is, at a minimum, three times that number, making the combination of those who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native or a combination, the overall percentage is not 4.8 percent, but closed to 12 percent.
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There’s been some community discussion regarding an apparent disproportionate number of citations versus warnings American Indians receive as compared to the white population in the community and Bowen wrote that by closely examining the data, the top three citations issued in this demographic are no insurance, no drivers’ license and no registration.
Bowen wrote that those citations were also issued to white drives but they were issued more to American Indians.
“The data suggests that white drivers were more likely to have a valid drivers’ license, registration, and insurance when stopped and required to produce these documents. In an effort to put this data into context, we provided our findings to a working group made up of a cross section of people in our community, to include American Indians. Two prominent theories were provided in an effort to explain the results. The first observation highlighted the economic disparity amongst the races and the fact that these required documents for operating a motor vehicle were not a priority amongst this group when other pressing needs were vying for the same financial resources. The second factor to be considered when discussing American Indians is the reality that not all of these documents we deem necessary to operate on the roadways of Montana are required on the reservations. As a people that live on a sovereign nation, they are not required to abide by all the laws of Montana when driving on the roadways within the limits of the reservation. This contrast in what is required when driving on or off the reservation may compound the issue,” Bowen wrote.
In his memo, Bowen wrote that the department now recognizes that using the 2010 Census data results in a skewed number and does not accurately reflect the presence of minority groups in the the community. He wrote that the annual report for GFPD will be modified in the coming years to more accurately reflect the minority populations in the community.
“I want to assure you that the Great Falls Police Department is not involved in racial profiling of American Indians within our community. Although the annual report may reflect a higher percentage of contacts with American Indians, I believe that, given the factors described above, it is not an accurate picture of the makeup within our community. That said, we will continue to examine our data collection and analysis methods to make sure we are using up-to-date data and processes to identify and respond to any indicators of bias. In the meantime, we are continuing to build relationships with minority leaders and discuss policing concerns that impact all minority groups,” Bowen wrote.