Taking on Racial Bias and Racial Profiling in Highland Park Policing

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On March 15, 2018, a young, black Highland Park resident, returning home from visiting with his former classmates and teachers at Highland Park High School, noticed a photo opportunity - an empty intersection that would work perfectly for a school project. He took the photo, walked over to his home across the street, and entered through his front door. Within minutes, five police cars were parked in front of his home, an undercover detective questioning his mother at the door, others circling behind the house. A neighbor reports seeing the detective at the door draw his gun and return it to his holster just before the mother opened the door.

The excessive police presence was the result of an undercover detective’s dispatch mischaracterizing the young man’s mundane movements as suspicious and misrepresenting him as “running through the backyard of the house.” Fortunately, his mother was home to defuse the terrifying encounter, so her son was neither arrested nor physically harmed. But the incident bears the marks of racial profiling and includes the kind of excessive police response that often ends in unnecessary arrest, injury, or death to the black and brown people who are targeted by police across the United States. This is not an isolated incident in Highland Park, either. Many residents of color have experienced racial profiling, and the Boro has a decades-old reputation in the region for being a place to avoid because of a history of unnecessary traffic stops that disproportionately target people of color. An analysis of nearly two years of data obtained from the Highland Park Police Department found that Black people accounted for 58% of use of force incidents with the police despite accounting for only 6% of the town population.

We are a group of concerned residents who are demanding that the Highland Park Police Department, Mayor Gayle Brill-Mittler, and the Boro Council take action now towards ending racial bias and racial profiling in Highland Park so that all of its residents and passers-through may live without the fear that comes with being disparately policed. Specifically, we are calling for the HPPD and HP Boro Council to take the following steps:

  • Hire an independent auditor with expertise in racial profiling and policing to perform a comprehensive audit of HPPD focused on identifying and assessing racial disparities and potential patterns of racial bias. The auditing firm should be selected through a transparent, community-responsive process.
  • Initiate in-depth and sustained training in implicit racial bias and de-escalation strategies for current and prospective HPPD officers.
  • Develop a plan for ongoing review and analysis of policing data that includes representation from the community and is focused on increased transparency and the identification of racial disparities and potential patterns of racial bias.
  • Establish a complaint process that is clearly communicated and easily accessible to the community, including an anonymous option.
  • Create an all-civilian oversight structure with an allocated budget.
  • Evaluate the current roles and responsibilities of the Human Relations Commission.
  • Adopt and implement a bias-free policing policy.

We invite you to join us in our request that the Highland Park Police Department, Mayor Gayle Brill-Mittler, and the Boro Council take up these common-sense steps to ensure equitable policing in the Boro.

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