Background and Current Data Collection Efforts
Introduction to Data Collection
What is data collection?
In the late 1990s, in response to allegations of racial profiling, jurisdictions around the country began to track information about those who are stopped, searched, ticketed, and/or arrested by police officers. These data collection efforts are an attempt to provide the tangible numbers that will enable police and community leaders to better understand their policing activities. With this understanding, departments will be able to examine and revamp policing strategies based on effectiveness, reconfigure deployment of police resources, or take other measures.
Data collection includes both the collection of the numbers and objective analysis of the data, which is often done through a scholarly partnership between the police department and outside experts. Data analysis allows law enforcement collaboration with community stakeholders to discuss the results and the ways police resources can be used most effectively. Though many departments have begun to collect some data on traffic stops, the resources discussed on this website offer additional ways to use such data both to improve police/community dialogue and increase officer accountability.
Benefits of Data Collection
The implementation of data collection systems has led to countless benefits for police departments and communities around the country. Data collection processes can:
- Send a strong message to the community that the department is against racial profiling and that racial profiling is inconsistent with effective policing and equal protection
- Build trust and respect for the police in the communities they serve
- Provide departments with information about the types of stops being made by officers, the proportion of police time spent on high-discretion stops, and the results of such stops
- Help shape and develop training programs to educate officers about racial profiling and interactions with the community
- Enable the development of police and community dialogue to assess the quality and quantity of police-citizen encounters
- Allay community concerns about the activities of police
- Identify potential police misconduct and deter it, when implemented as part of a comprehensive early warning system
- Retain autonomous officer discretion and allow for flexible responses in different situations
Limitations of Data Collection
While jurisdictions can derive many benefits from implementing data collection systems, they also face several potential challenges. Such challenges may include the following:
- Concerns about extra-budgetary expenditures associated with collecting data (see Funding the Project for hints about this difficulty)
- Developing a benchmark against which the data can be compared (see the Internal and External Benchmarks section for more on this problem)
- The potential burden an improved data collection procedure will have on individual officers in the course of a normal shift
- The potential for police disengagement from their duties, which may lead to officers scaling back on the number of legitimate stops
- The challenge of ensuring that officers will fully comply with a directive to collect stop data
- Ensuring that data is recorded on all stops made, and that the data collected is correct
- The difficulty of determining the race or ethnicity of the persons stopped
- Once data is collected and analyzed, the difficulty of making a definite conclusion about whether racial profiling exists or not, as this question requires more than a "yes" or "no" answer
These challenges may seem daunting, and there are no easy answers to any of them. If a law enforcement agency is aware of these challenges from the outset, however, it will be better able to address them when they arise. Hundreds of jurisdictions are successfully collecting data despite these challenges.
Hundreds of individual jurisdictions have begun to collect data, either voluntarily or through legislation, consent decrees, or settlements. A state-by-state list of those jurisdictions can be found on the Jurisdictions Currently Collecting page.
Besides the information on jurisdictions that are currently collecting data, the sections on this website includes resources on the history of the racial profiling controversy, a glossary of data collection terms, information on planning and implementing data collection systems, training materials and curricula from jurisdictions around the country, and a list of frequently asked questions about data collection and racial profiling.