Proposal would require police to collect race data in traffic stopsby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
A bill before the Legislature would require police in Minnesota to gather data aimed at halting racial profiling, which advocates say still occurs. The bill would require police officers to record the race of every person they pull over in traffic stops. The group responsible for police training say the change is not necessary.
Rochester, Minn. — If the bill becomes law, police would be required to record first the perceived race of the stopped driver, whether a search was conducted, whether that search netted any contraband, and whether the driver was ticketed, arrested or let go.
The ACLU of Minnesota is behind the legislation. The group wrote it because minorities continue to complain about profiling, according to ACLU executive director Chuck Samuelson.
He points to the findings of the 2002 Statewide Racial Profiling Study conducted in 65 Minnesota counties.
"It did indicate that there was an over-policing, that there were more stops per thousand of drivers of color, and that when they were stopped they were searched more frequently," said Samuelson. "But that was the end of it. And no substantive changes ever came from it."
The state did establish a racial profiling hotline. And in St. Cloud, police are voluntarily collecting detailed race data as part of a five-year study. The results will be out this fall.
Samuelson acknowledges some police see this bill as an attack.
"The object of the bill is not to punish police, it is rather to shed light on what is widely perceived, in communities of color, to be police abuse," Samuelson said.
The bill is a near copy to Illinois legislation that created something called the Traffic Stop Statistical Study, Samuelson said.
"They had a young state senator named Barack Obama who put the bill through in Illinois," he said.
Then-Sen. Obama's legislation created a multi-year study that began in 2004. The annual results of that study have shown consistently that Illinois police more frequently stop drivers of color. The results also show that Illinois police conduct more vehicle searches of minorities, with no results.
"We are indicting 11,600 cops, because that is how many we have in Minnesota," said Neil Melton, director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The POST Board would be required to collect the Minnesota data. Melton finds some of the language used in the bill inflammatory. One example, he says, is in the section on monitoring and compliance.
That section reads, "The board ... may devise and implement and auditing system of optional, unannounced spot checks to ensure that all law enforcement agencies ... are accurately collecting the data."
"We're assuming you're not? Yeah, I guess we are assuming," Melton said.
Further down the page, Melton locates another passage which refers to the percentage of minority drivers or passengers "...being stopped in a law enforcement jurisdiction is substantially higher..."
"Now that is very subjective," Melton said. "What is 'substantially'? Who has the measuring stick for that one?"
It would be wiser to focus on the number of searches conducted, Melton said.
He wondered, too, what the cost of this legislation would be. Currently, the bill states that funding would come from the federal highway safety funds, but a pricetag hasn't been established.
Cost should not be the focus here, according to Victor Contrerras, executive director of Centro Campesino, a migrant worker rights group based in Owatonna. Contrerras said he has talked to thousands of minorities who believe police targeted them.
"By making this law, it gives us the right to a public process so that we feel safe when we drive to work," said Contrerras. "We don't think it's normal for an officer to stop someone in a small, rural town solely because they look Latino or like a minority."
One upside for police in this proposal is that the data could serve as an objective observer, like cameras in squad cars.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the profiling bill later this month.
- All Things Considered, 03/09/2009, 4:44 p.m.