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POLICE SOFTWARE AWAITED AMID PROBE OF ALLEGED RACIAL PROFILING

More than three months after a meeting with city officials about access to information, the New York Civil Liberties Union has yet to collect the data it sought about alleged racial profiling by police.

But John A. Curr III, assistant director of the NYCLU's Buffalo office, said that this could change in as little as two weeks.

Curr said the NYCLU was willing to wait through the installation of a new computer software package at the Lockport Police Department, making it easier to sift through almost eight years' worth of records.

"We have nothing to hide. Our door's open. They can look at whatever they want," said Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano.

After receiving complaints about alleged harassment of African-Americans by the city police, the NYCLU announced in June that it was opening an investigation.

Lockport is 91 percent white, according to the 2000 census. It has never employed a minority police officer.

In July, the group filed Freedom of Information requests for all arrest reports and records of traffic stops dating from January 1995, along with copies of the department's procedures for handling civilian complaints.

Arrest reports specify the race of the person arrested. Entries for traffic stops usually do not, police officials said at the time.

On Aug. 14, NYCLU leaders met with city officials behind closed doors. The sides announced that they had come to an agreement on access to the massive amounts of information.

"My original idea was to set up a terminal and give them access to whatever they needed," Merritt said.

However, the department installed a new software package in the last several weeks.

"As things have been very cooperative between ourselves and the government officials in Lockport, we didn't see any harm in waiting," Curr said. "We are told, based on the new software they've installed, they'll be in compliance (with the request) within two weeks."

He said he believed that the department could even issue the results on a computer disk instead of printing out reams of paper.

"I hope it's in the form of media. I think that would be beneficial to the forests," Curr said.

Detective Lt. Richard Podgers, the department's computer expert, said the software was not changed in response to the NYCLU's request for information.

He said that the older package was about 20 years old and worked well. But the manufacturer was no longer supporting it, he said, and the department had little choice but to upgrade to a newer system.

Podgers said the department used $10,000 from a federal grant to pay for the new software, which will make it easier to answer specific queries, such as the race of suspects, that would have been harder to find with the old system.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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