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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Police to Start Collecting Racial Data

I have a problem with this.

Police in Wisconsin's largest counties — including three in the Fox Valley
— would have to track the race of people they pull over under a provision in
Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed budget.

Wisconsin has grappled for years with a disproportionate number of minorities caught up in its justice system. Doyle's provision would mark the state's first attempt to gather data on racial profiling if it passes.

"There certainly is a perception (that) people of color are being treated differently by police. Data management, it sort of gets everything out. Let's look at what's happening," said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin chapter.

Wisconsin has struggled throughout the last decade with more minorities winding up in prison. Under Doyle's budget, officers in the 11 counties with 125,000 people or more would have to record the race of drivers and any passengers searched along with the reason for the stop.

The counties where data collection would be mandated include Outagamie, Winnebago, Brown, Dane, Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Racine, Rock, Washington and Waukesha.

The budget said the raw data would not be subject to the state open records law, which exempts personal identity information that might be used in an investigation. But Robert Dreps, a lawyer who specializes in the open records law, said he believes it would be subject to the law.

I think that we can all agree that we want out justice system to be colorblind. But how does collecting this data help? If a cop is a racist and is deliberately pulling over minorities, what's to prevent him from just lying about the race of the driver? And once we collect this data, what will we do with it?

For example, let's say at the end of the day we find out that police pull over a disproportionate number of minorities. If they were all legitimate stops, who cares? Also, the data will not tell us how many people weren't pulled over who should have been. That's the other side of bias, if there is any.

In the end, I suspect that we will discover that Wisconsin pulls over a disproportionate number of minorities. Then, the liberals will cry and whine and force us to "balance" the system. But if the people being pulled over were pulled over legitimately, the only way to :balance" the system is to either let crooks go or pull white people over for no good reason on the basis of their race. Either way, we would put more Wisconsinites at risk.

There is also the issue of the data not being public. Without other people being able to scrutinize the data, the government can tell us whatever they want about it. We won't be able to properly evaluate the conclusions without access to the data.

The raw truth is that a racial balance in judicial outcomes is not possible unless there is a racial balance in crime. In Wisconsin, that is not the case right now and we shouldn't try to force our judicial system to reflect a racial balance that doesn't exist. Instead, we should focus our efforts on making sure that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, is treated appropriately by law enforcement.