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Police say ‘no’ to capital ‘N’

— The Dalles Police Chief Jay Waterbury thought the city was stuck with an offensive and archaic race designation on city police forms, and it bothered him.

That’s what he told a woman who complained to him in September after her husband, who is black, was involved in a car crash in which the other driver was at fault.

When her husband, Lewis Grant, got a copy of the police report, he saw where his race was designated with the letter N. “That can mean one of two words,” Lewis Grant said.

Seeing it made him feel “at a distance” from the community, he said — “an outcast.”

His wife, Stacey Grant, complained to Waterbury, who said the race designations were determined by the state, and he referred her to the state.

She also took her complaint to the Chronicle, which in turn e-mailed an inquiry to the state. The email reached the director of the division that oversees the state’s Law Enforcement Data System, a computer system which houses crime data from police agencies statewide.

That director then called Waterbury, and told him it wasn’t, in fact, a state requirement. Tricia Whitfield, director of the Criminal Justice Information services Division, which manages the Law Enforcement Data System, told the Chronicle, “Black is B and has been for a very long time.”

In fact, in her 33 years working for the state, she has not seen the letter N used to designate blacks.

She did say that if police records come to the state data system, any nonconforming data – such as using N instead of B for blacks – are automatically modified.

However, the agencies that send in these non-conforming reports are not told they are non-conforming, the correction is simply made by the state.

“There was no kickback telling anybody there was a problem,” Waterbury said. “You can understand what the issues are there.”

As soon as Waterbury learned the problem was fixable, the fix was done in-house. Now, the data field where race is entered will not accept the letter N, he said.

He was worried it might require help from the headquarters of the Florida-based company that provides the department’s reporting system, but it was simple to do.

Waterbury has long been troubled by the race designation.

“I don’t agree with it either, with the N. But that’s what we were told at the time, that’s what I knew, what I believed. The day we found out [we could change it], we changed it.”

“I wish I would’ve known about it earlier because it would’ve happened earlier,” he said.

Stacey Grant said her reaction when she first saw the N on the police report was, “’Seriously? In this day and age?’ I was in disbelief.”

She welcomed the change to the police forms.

“I think it’s a positive move forward for The Dalles and the state of Oregon. It should have been done before this point. I think in this day and age it was ridiculous.”

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