Former Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth spoke on behalf of the Portland Police Bureau, opposite a representative of a local advocacy group, at a lecture about racial profiling held at Portland State yesterday.
Former Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth spoke on behalf of the Portland Police Bureau, opposite a representative of a local advocacy group, at a lecture about racial profiling held at Portland State yesterday. The lecture was part of the 2007 Black Bag Speaker Series, which explores social and equality issues affecting African-Americans in Portland. Ethan Johnson, assistant professor in the Black Studies department at PSU, said the discussion with Foxworth and Bowman was set up in response to a prevailing attitude that race is not a problem in Portland. At the lecture, Foxworth defended the police’s use of pretext stops. A pretext stop is defined as any time an officer detains or questions an individual for a minor offense, while suspecting without probable cause that the individual has committed a more serious crime. Foxworth was demoted from his position as chief of police in June, after it was learned that he was sending sexually explicit e-mails to his secretary. He is planning a lawsuit against the city over the matter. Jo Ann Bowman, executive director of Oregon Action, a local advocacy group, argued that pretext stops are often times racially motivated. “They are excuses to racially profile,” Bowman said. Foxworth agreed that pretext stops can be a catalyst for racial profiling, but that the practice can be a valuable tool for fighting crime. Bowman and Foxworth also disagreed over the definition of racial profiling. Foxworth said the definition is the use of race as the sole basis for any police action, such as justifying traffic stops. Bowman said the definition of racial profiling is limited and that it occurs when race is used inappropriately to stop or detain a person. Bowman said that all police officers in Portland should give out business cards whenever they interact with the public. Business cards should have contact information on the back so that people can call to pay compliments or make complaints, she said. Foxworth agreed, saying he sees no reason why a business-card policy shouldn’t be adopted by the force. The police are in the public safety business, so they should have business cards just like the private sector, he said. Despite their disagreements, both Foxworth and Bowman agreed that racial profiling is a problem in Portland because minorities are pulled over disproportionately to Caucasians. Foxworth said the solution is to change the culture of the police force through better training and by hiring more people from different cultures. Limiting racial profiling will not be easy, he said, because it is hard to see how each individual officer feels about race. The next Black Bag Speaker Series lecture is scheduled for January. The topic will be race and media.