Archive for Monday, August 6, 2007

Many police agencies ignore profiling law

August 6, 2007

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— In a bid to reduce racial profiling, a 2005 state law required law enforcement agencies in Kansas to file annual reports of complaints of race-based traffic stops.

But only 147 of 431 agencies filed the required reports last year, or 34 percent.

Supporters of the law, such as Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison's office, say they have no way to force agencies to comply because there are no penalties or other enforcement powers included in the legislation.

"There's no hammer behind the law. No teeth in it," said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, who was a sponsor of the anti-profiling bill. "It became the proverbial toothless paper tiger."

Missouri officials, on the other hand, have more tools, such as reporting noncomplying agencies to the governor and withholding state funding. In 2005, the state withheld $7,166 from 17 agencies that failed to turn in their annual traffic stop reports.

Last year, 97 percent of Missouri's 653 law enforcement agencies filed their required reports. Attorney General Jay Nixon reported nine of the noncomplying agencies to Gov. Matt Blunt.

The Kansas law was intended to spark community conversations about the threat posed by racial profiling. Besides the reports, it called for a 15-member Governor's Task Force on Racial Profiling to determine how serious the problem is in Kansas and recommend solutions.

But some are criticizing the group for moving too slowly in its young life - when it's able move at all. This summer, the group has struggled to get enough members together to conduct business and wasn't able to meet in June.

"Up until this point there's been a lot of dialogue, but the truth is, people are looking for action," said the Rev. Allen Smith of Salina, co-chairman of the task force.

"We're expecting some real results," Smith said. "I don't think the issue is going away."

'Time to move'

Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, who also sponsored the legislation, said the group must provide the enforcement lacking in the law, developing a uniform way to collect profiling complaints and making recommendations to the Legislature.

Betts said he's frustrated by what he sees as a lack of progress and may push for new task force members by the end of the year.

"It does not take forever and a day to come with recommendations of data collection," he said. "It's time to stop talking about it and time to be about it. It's time to move. ... If the task force doesn't do something, I intend to hold the task force accountable."

The Kansas Human Rights Commission, which investigates instances of racial profiling, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said they support the task force. It has until 2009 to complete its work.

"It may not seem to a lot of people that we're doing much, but we're taking baby steps. And that's important," said Danielle Dempsey-Swopes, task force administrator. "It's really slow going. There is so much distrust - both real and imagined - between the police and the public. You have to overcome the historic and stereotypic bias that everyone brings with them."

Four years ago, a study showed that state troopers on some Kansas highways were three times more likely to pull over black and Hispanic drivers than white drivers.

That and other instances have affected the perception of law enforcement for years.

"A lot of law officers just really want to know what the rules are," said Olathe Police Chief Janet Thiessen. "Having a standardized data collection too is a big part of what's needed. That's the linchpin to make this work."

Reporting review

Doyle King, executive director of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said the lack of reports is because many departments are wrongfully assuming that if they don't have any complaints of racial profiling, they don't have to file a report.

Morrison's office last month sent an e-mail to police and sheriff's offices, reminding them about the report and plans to make the reporting forms simpler.

The state task force plans to hire a full-time coordinator to help with awareness and conduct police training, but Dempsey-Swopes said it will take some time for Kansas to develop the same traffic stop database used by Missouri.

"That's where we're headed, but it's a long way and a lot of money off," she said. "I would say we're three years and $10 million off."

Comments

Mike Curtis 7 years, 9 months ago

I don't see a problem...in Kansas anyway!

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 9 months ago

You have to overcome the historic and stereotypic bias that everyone brings with them.


When the historic and factual crime stats change, then we need to stop focusing on the people who create those stats. Until then, it's only good police work to focus on the appropriate ethnic/racial groups.

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 9 months ago

americorps (Anonymous) says: it does not matter of the law enforcement office agrees or disagrees with the law, it is the law that they complete the report.


Really? I didn't know this. Is it a long report? That's wasted time out of the field. I'd rather have the cops out there than sitting behind a desk trying to comply with ninny regulations to appease whining lawmakers.

JSpizias 7 years, 9 months ago

It would appear that data collected about the number of traffic stops and the "race" of the driver are of questionable value for meaningful evaluation of whether "racial profiling" is occurring. If one simply examines the relative proportions of law enforcement stops that are white and black drivers as a means for determining whether there is "racial profiling", there is an implicit assumption that the rates of offending are the same for both groups. This may not be true. As the data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows, in 2005 Blacks had an arrest rate for homicide offending about 7 times higher than that for Whites, and a similar disparity is found in rates for other violent crime. http://ovc.gov/bjs//homicide/race.htm Is this due to "racial profiling" for homicide arrests? If such a disparity occurs with traffic offenders, then blacks would be expected to be disproportionately represented among those stopped by law enforcement for traffic violations. Another factor that could lead to so-called "racial profiling" in traffic stops is the difference in socio-economic status between Whites and Blacks. Blacks, as a group, have an average lower income than Whites and therefore may drive older and less well maintained vehicles (a broken tail light, turn signals not working, etc). This factor in itself could lead to a disparity in traffic stops. One who has ever known police officers and is familiar with their work realizes that in many cases, perhaps most, the officer has no knowledge of the "race" of the driver when he/she turns on the lights for a traffic stop. Last, we don't hear much about "Racial Profiling" problems from Asians. Perhaps this is related to the fact that crime statistics show that Asians generally have lower crime rates than Whites.

coolmom 7 years, 9 months ago

well 10 million more and a simpler form will save everyone.

Confrontation 7 years, 9 months ago

I remember racial profiling being discussed during the Lawrence PD's Citizenship Academy several years ago. None of the officers denied doing it, nor did they admit doing it. One of them even talked about being able to detect gang members by which way they lean while driving, how far back their seats were reclined, and by how they wore their ballcaps. This should serve as a warning to all of you tall baseball players out there! Don't lean over to reach something.

acg 7 years, 9 months ago

I dated a KC, MO patrol cop when I was younger (much younger) and he told me about all of the tips and tricks they use to "profile" people, and they don't stop at race. He said they pulled dirty white people (read white trash) over just as often as they pulled black people over. He also said that statistically, cars with DARE bumper stickers are more likely to have drug users in them than not. He also said they would ask to search based on things like: do they have bumper stickers for rock, rap or alternative stations, is the car dented or rusty or are they smoking a cigarette. He also said that 99% of the time, if he's pulled a car over and there are more than 4 occupants in the car between the ages of 16 and 45, he'd search, and that was because "out of 4, one of them is bound to have something". So, based on little things like this, coupling that with the driver's race or appearance, he'd simply say he smelled marijuana when approaching the vehicle to give himself probable cause for a search.

Ragingbear 7 years, 9 months ago

So you think it's a good thing that people can be pulled over for DWB?

In case you don't know. It's called "Driving While Black" and is quite common across the country.

Bubarubu 7 years, 9 months ago

JSpizias opines: "Another factor that could lead to so-called "racial profiling" in traffic stops is the difference in socio-economic status between Whites and Blacks. Blacks, as a group, have an average lower income than Whites and therefore may drive older and less well maintained vehicles (a broken tail light, turn signals not working, etc). This factor in itself could lead to a disparity in traffic stops."

Summary: poor people should get pulled over more often, and that's OK...

The report the article briefly mentions was a fairly extensive study of a variety of agencies in the state that concluded that, in some places, one was twice as likely to get pulled over if one were black instead of white. One limitation of the study, which returns to the lack of uniform reporting between agencies, is the lack of data on officer-initiated stops that do not result in a citation. An officer may pull over a young black or Hispanic driver, not issue a citation, and that does not make it into the data. The report also openly questions the cooperation of officers in Hutchinson, since they made fewer than 1/3 of the expected stops during the study, highlighting the importance of better data collection and reporting. Of course, without any sort of penalty, there's no reason for Hutch or Park City (which had a single officer who accounted for almost 40% of all stops of Hispanic drivers) to improve.

Incidentally, the Osage County sheriff offered the same argument as JSpizias, that Hispanic drivers were buying and using poorly maintained vehicles, to explain the fact that Hispanic drivers were more than 5 times as likely to be stopped as white drivers. Problem was, not a single Hispanic driver in the study was stopped for an equipment violation. Not one. So, not only would the argument justifying punishing poor people for being poor, but the data don't support it. Face it, law enforcement agencies target certain groups disproportionately and do so without concern for penalties. Fixing that problem (which the law would make a step towards if it had any enforcement at all) would make for a better state overall.

JSpizias 7 years, 9 months ago

Bubarubu:

Do you not understand simple logic or do you just find it simpler to ignore logic and post stuff that completely distorts what was said?

"Another factor that could lead to so-called "racial profiling" in traffic stops is the difference in socio-economic status between Whites and Blacks. Blacks, as a group, have an average lower income than Whites and therefore may drive older and less well maintained vehicles (a broken tail light, turn signals not working, etc). This factor in itself could lead to a disparity in traffic stops." We would like to know the "logic" by which you go from a hypothetical possibility to a reading of Bubarubu states his summary of the above statement:

Summary: poor people should get pulled over more often, and that's OK

Note first that the above statement is about ANOTHER (single, additional) factor that could contribute to differences in rates at which blacks and whites are stopped for traffic violations.

The above statement was an IF, THEN hypothesis in the format of: IF blacks have an average lower income (which statistics show they do) and because of this lower income drive older and less well maintained cars (let's say 5% have vehicle defects versus 1% for newer vehicles), AND IF (assumption) all cars that are observed to have a defect are stopped by police when they are observed, THEN, a disproportionate number of blacks will be stopped in comparison with whites.

Please explain for me and other readers how you have arrived at a translation of the above hypothetical as:

"poor people should get pulled over more often, and that's OK"

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