State lawmakers are considering proposals aimed at curbing racial profiling by law enforcement personnel. Currently all police agencies in the state are required to have a policy prohibiting the practice.
Since 2000, law enforcement stops have been tracked by age, race and gender. The information is compiled and released in a report by the attorney general.
In the first year, it was discovered that African American’s were 33 percent more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested that whites, a disparity that has grown over the years.
Among the measures now in the legislature in one sponsored House member Shamed Dogan. It expands the tracking requirent to include disabled people and foreign language speakers.
Dogan says the bill “puts teeth” into the current racial profiling law by providing penalties for non-compliance.
For example, if a law enforcement agency fails to report it’s tracking figures to the attorney general, it’ll forfeit 10% of its annual revenue received from fines, bond forfeitures, and court costs for traffic violations.
If reporting shows an agency has an ongoing disproportionate number of racial profiling instances, the governor could withhold any of its state funding, and up to 25% of its revenue from fines and court costs could be sacrificed, depending on circumstances.
Dogan’s measure also replaces disparity rates with disparity ratios of stops between whites and minorities. He says experts have determined that ratios are a more accurate way of tracking stops.
A similar measure sponsored Representative Paul Curtman (R-Pacific) was presented simultaneously with Dogan’s offering before a House committee.
Curtman’s proposal eliminates the phrase “raced based traffic stop” from the current law and replaces it with the term “unlawful policing”, to better represent the activity as stopping someone simply because of the color of their skin.
It also uses a minority group’s percentage of the population to clarify whether officers are stopping them disproportionately.
Curtman’s bill further requires officers to supply a justifiable reason for stopping someone when they ask the person to consent to a search. During the committee hearing, Sara Baker with the American Civil Liberties Union noted having the requirement led to a significant drop in profiling by police in Austin, Texas.
Over the course of a year, she said “the consent searches declined 63 percent overall, from over 2,000 searches to around 800. And the racial disparity rate for consent searches fell from 2.7 to 1.8, or a 33 percent decrease.” Baker said people often don’t feel they have any choice but to grant consent to a law enforcement officer.
Lieutenant Perry Johnson with the St. Louis Police Department teaches racial profiling classes. Before the committee, he said provisions need to be in place to ensure police accountability.
“It’s not a thing where we’re going to simply says ‘Well, I don’t want to fill out the form’” said Johnson. If you’re out there and you truly want to serve your community, and you want to make your community better, then the form is just something that’s minor for that.”
Dogan’s proposal specifically requires that every time officers make a stop, they report detailed information, including the reason for the stop.
Both pieces of legislation seek to more clearly define procedures and standards for officer conduct during stops. House member Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis), who sits on the committee, said he knows firsthand how the term “probable cause” can be manipulated.
“I’ve been pulled over a million times a broken license plate light that wasn’t broken” said Franks. “So when they found out it wasn’t broken, what’s the probable cause. The probable cause still is the fact that they thought it was broken. Or they thought that the bulb was out when it wasn’t. So we have these incidents.”
Kevin Merritt with the Missouri Sheriff’s Association was the only person to testify against the legislation. He objected to the stipulation that racial profiling policies would be under the supervision of the attorney general.
“If the sheriff’s agency or police agency is going to write a policy on non-biased policing, why is that policy any different than any other policy that that particular law enforcement agency may have.”
Dogan responded to the complaint by noting that state policies under the civil rights act have been under the scrutiny of the federal government for many years.