Study Shows No Racial Profiling During Hot August Nights

Reno Police Department
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A review of arrests made during last year's Hot August Nights showed no "institutional racism" by Reno police, a new study concluded.

The study by University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik was sponsored by the city and comes after five years of community criticism that police target minorities for arrest during the Reno area's largest special event.

Herzik's study concluded that police did not arrest a disproportionate number of minorities during the classic car event last summer.

"What we wanted to find out was if, as the community suggested, the police behavior at Hot August Nights was racially motivated," Herzik told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Our study said no it is not. Whether that was true in the past, I can't say.

"In terms of last Hot August Nights, I would say the police responded in a very professional and impartial manner," Herzik said.

The city commissioned the $40,000 study after intense community criticism of police behavior during Hot August Nights. The furor erupted after the 1998 event, during which a melee broke out and more than 200 people were arrested.

The riot resulted in nearly a dozen complaints about police brutality. Only one complaint was substantiated.

In 1999, an analysis of event arrests indicated 49 percent were minorities, prompting more allegations of racial profiling. Police countered that it was unfair to compare arrest statistics to census data because the crowd was more diverse than Reno's general population.

Reno Police Chief Jerry Hoover said the latest study should ease community concerns.

"To say this study would invalidate anything that happened five years ago, I wouldn't go that far," Hoover said. "I would say it validates our position that we don't believe there is institutional racism in this department."

More importantly, Hoover said, the study shows the department is willing to take a critical look at itself.

"I hope people don't forget that," he said.

Reaction from the minority community was mixed.

Lonnie Feemster, a black community leader, said the study results are a reflection of the work of minority activists, who spoke at city council meetings, observed bookings at the Washoe County Jail and formed teams of ambassadors to patrol the event.

"The community activism had a dramatic impact and brought things into line," he said. "We made an issue out of it and were very adamant."

But some minorities said the study's results don't make them feel any safer from police racism.

"I think it's a joke," said Theresa Navarro, a Latino community activist.

"How can they do a racial-profiling study of an event when there's people there who don't even live here?

"To me, racial profiling is alive and well and it's going on."