Montgomery County law enforcement collecting data on race, traffic stops

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - A series of listening sessions between law enforcement and community members wrapped up in Roanoke on Tuesday. Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran organized four events across the state. They said the goal is to address concerns and improve practices and policies regarding policing.

"We are here to listen and we have a legislative session coming up in January and we will certainly bring this information to the governor to see if we need to change any polices that exist or improve to build trust in our community" said Moran.

Moran said concerns expressed have been similar across the state, including increased pay for officers and the desire by officers, as well as residents, to build stronger relations. After listening to the public's concerns, state leaders say they plan to use that information to provide funding for equipment, training, recruitment and other resources for local agencies.

Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson, who is part of a group of agencies examining racial profiling in Montgomery County, attended the event.

"What we look at as a national issue, is a very local issue too" said Wilson. "If people don't think the national conversation goes on at your Hardee's downtown, it certainly is."

Wilson and other law enforcement agents partnered with Virginia Tech professor Dr. Wornie Reed and together they are conducting research to see if police in Montgomery County pull blacks over more often than whites.

"On racial profiling, we've been collecting data that shows that African-Americans in each of these jurisdictions are arrested at two to three times the rate of whites."

Reed said using data already collected, they can not conclude that racially-biased policing exist.

"Cause someone could say, well African-Americans commit that disproportionate number of offenses," said Reed.

For the past year, they've taken their research on traffic stops a step further by examining specific factors such as gender and race.

"Data on who is stopped, why they were stopped, what's the disposition, the race, the gender and age," said Reed. "So that we can analyze this data and determine if racial profiling is going."

Wilson said dialogues on issues such as race, policing and education are important to building trust in communities. He said if biases do exist, he wants to know about it.

"I'm not afraid of our numbers, if our numbers say we need to change something because we have a problem ," said Wilson. "It's something we are constantly evaluating."

Police and Reed said it's too early to tell if police are injecting bias into their decisions, based on the data, but they will continue to look at the research.

If they find discrimination, they will come up with new procedures to fix it.