By Cory Lesniak
A 2005 report published by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) revealed that River Forest police officers stopped minority drivers at a ratio of 1.27, which means that minority drivers are 27% more likely to be stopped than would be expected based on the number of minority drivers in River Forest. This is higher than the statewide ratio of 1.15.
Since then, RFPD has improved their performance, according to Deputy Chief of Police James O’Shea. A report released last year recorded River Forest’s ratio had dropped to 1.05.
The state of Illinois requires the race of all drivers stopped for a traffic violation to be recorded. O’Shea said this information is recorded in a traffic data sheet but not recorded on the citation. “The majority of traffic stops are recorded by in-car video and audio.” he said. “Also, we look forward to and support the use of body-worn cameras to record incidents and enforcement stops.”
Philosophy professor Nkuzi Nnam, a native of Nigeria, said he was racially profiled as a minority driver in River Forest. Five years ago, Nnam said, the police would regularly pull him over during his daily commute to Dominican. “I was profiled myself… police would stop me here in River Forest and they checked my particulars and let me go. So it happened several times.” Nnam said.
O’Shea said drivers are pulled over for violation reasons, not because they are being profiled. “They were stopped because of a traffic violation or for other enforcement reasons.” he said.
According to O’Shea, RFPD officers receive ongoing training in diversity, including in-service trainings and outside training seminars on multi-cultural diversity.
O’Shea claims to have a good standing relationship with the Dominican community. “In the past six months we have had the opportunity to meet with student government representatives, educators and the executive staff of the university.” he said.
Student Government Association president Cutberto Aguayo said he believes racial profiling to be a problem in River Forest. Aguayo said, “I personally have had encounters with the RFPD that I believe were the results of racial profiling because no ordinances or laws were broken and no explicable reason for me being pulled over was given.” Aguayo said he is not the only one who has experienced profiling by RFPD and claims other students and faculty have had similar experiences.
Aguayo proposed a SGA Diversity Committee to help tackle issues of profiling and bias. The proposal was recently passed and senior Tyehimba Turner, diversity committee chair, is crafting a Memorandum of Understanding between Dominican and RFPD. Aguayo said RFPD officers have been “very receptive to our concerns and feedback.” He said, “Over the course of my presidency, I will aim to improve relations between the RFPD and students here at Dominican, to limit the possibility of any sort of racial profiling in the future.”
O’Shea also spoke positively about RFPD’s relationship with Dominican. “School safety, violence against women, alcohol and drug use and the perceptions of both students and staff and the front line officers were discussed. We look forward to any future interactions on these topics and ways to improve relations or dispel false rumors.”
River Forest had a 43.47 percent baseline minority driving population. That means for each white driver stopped .05 minority drivers are stopped. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010 84.8 percent of River Forest’s population was white.