In response to the shooting of 23-year-old Robert Tolan by a Bellaire police officer, the city has hired racial profiling expert Alex Del Carmen to review all traffic stops made by the department in 2008 to determine if officers are guilty of racial profiling. The city will pay about $7,000 for the analysis, and hopes Carmen’s findings will be presented to council at the March 16 meeting.
Until now, the department has compiled the statistics internally, and presented the information to council annually. Assistant Police Chief Byron Holloway says Carmen has been hired “because the issue was raised.”
“Hopefully, it will show that we meet the reporting requirements as we have always done,” said Holloway, who said he assumes the report will reflect what he says is the departments philosophy of treating people fairly.
Tolan, a Bellaire resident, was returning to his home in the 800 block of Woodstock around 2 a.m. when he was confronted by officers. According to Bellaire police, the officers were investigating a stolen vehicle, and an “altercation” ensued, which ended with Sergeant Jeff Cotton, a 10-year-veteran of the Bellaire Police Department, shooting Tolan in front of his home. Cotton has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by both the police department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel addressed the issue at the recent State of the City Address.
“Over the last few weeks it has been an extremely difficult time with the shooting of Robbie Tolan and the subsequent allegations of racial profiling,” said Siegel. “It is hard for many of us to reconcile the image of Bellaire and our police department to the one portrayed by some. I know that many of you are as saddened and sorry that this tragedy occurred as I am. At this time it would be inappropriate for me to speak about this incident, though, due to the ongoing Harris County District Attorney’s investigation. The purpose of the DA’s investigation is to protect the rights of Robbie Tolan by conducting an independent and fair investigation. It is irresponsible for anyone to be discussing or speculating about the investigation to the media. However, I can say that once the investigation and findings are known – there will be a reporting to our citizens and the City will take whatever steps are needed. Until that time, though, the City will continue to support the DA’s investigation into this matter.”
The city has also hired a Bellaire resident to provide “cultural sensitivity” trainer to work with members of the police department.