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Great Falls Police Department responds to BLM forum

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Posted at 6:01 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 00:19:03-04

Following the educational forum “Above The Hate” in Great Falls on Saturday, the Great Falls Police Department announced plans to make some public records more easily accessible, and evaluate how the department looks at data. According to Cedrianna Brownell, one of the event organizers, the forum was intended to reopen the conversation of race within the local community, weeks after the city’s last Black Lives Matter protest.

Helena Lovick attended the forum and presented data regarding law enforcement and their interactions with Black and Indigenous People of Color, which she had obtained from the Great Falls Police Department’s annual reports from the past three years. “The Great Falls Police Department makes annual reports where they collect their biased-based profiling data for traffic stops. So I was able to get paper copies of those because they’re publicly available. Unfortunately, they’re not online so most people can’t go look at it easily. So I then just compiled the data and looked for trends,” Lovick told MTN reporter Lindsie Hiatt.

“It was really clear right away without doing any data manipulation that Native Americans are given a citation more than a warning more frequently than whites. And then if you look at the traffic stop data, blacks and also Native Americans in our city are stopped more frequently than what you would expect for their proportion of the population. So that suggests they’re being overpoliced in comparison to white people,” Lovick said.

The Great Falls Police Department did not send any representatives to that forum, but said they are aware of the numbers. According to GFPD Public Information Officer Doug Otto, the department believes that those numbers do not accurately represent what is really happening.

“We looked at that, and we compare our information to the most recent Census, which would have been 2010,” Lietenant Otto explained. “After we’ve posted that, we’ve talked to some of the different groups within Great Falls, some varying sources that are telling us essentially our data is not accurately representing the numbers that are truly here. So it does look like there’s a racial disparity that’s in this, and in reality, we realize that we have to do a better in finding better sources that are going to show more accurate numbers, particularly for the Native American population within Great Falls.”

The Police Department is working with several groups in the community, including city commissioners and the City Manager’s office, to make sure that issues are addressed and accurate information is being reported.

In that same vein, Lt. Otto also unveiled a plan to make those public records easier for the public to access. In the past, the GFPD has never put their year-end reports on their website, but that’s changing. The GFPD posted its 2019 annual report online on Monday; click here to see the full report (PDF). It includes data on use of force, investigations, special victims, biased-based profiling review, training, animal control, and more.

They hope that all future reports will soon be available on the GFPD website. The reports on file date all the way back to 2014, although Otto wasn’t sure if each year will be accessible right away.

“Whether all of them make it out, I don’t know for sure, but at least the last two to three years will be out there for people to take a look at and see what we do,” he said. “The data that’s in them is what’s in them, and we are re-evaluating what data we’ll keep and what we need to add, maybe change how we look at and do business on certain things, but we’re going to make sure that we keep that information out there for people to see.”

The Police Department says they are focusing on making sure that all the data and information being put out right now is accurate.

“I’m not sure how a forum would look,” Otto said when asked about the possibility. “I’ve talked to the Chief, and we’re not sure exactly how that will be structured, but the biggest piece is getting this information to the City Commission so it can be put out there to the public and people can attend a commission meeting, watch it on TV, whatever the case may be, to gather that information.”

The GFPD invites the public to ask questions, and says that they’re always open to calls from the public. Anyone wanting to ask a question or work with the department on coming up with a solution is welcome to call the non-emergency number for the department at 406-727-7688.