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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

New statute needed to curb racial profiling

The sad reality is that all to often, racial profiling occurs, with little recourse for the victim. It is time to look into this problem so that it may be deal with according to our highest values of equality before the law.

Starting Jan. 1, 2011, police officers in Wisconsin will be required to collect information on all traffic stops to determine whether racial minorities have been disproportionately stopped. This long overdue measure will help to put an end to racial profiling in the police force by providing the data necessary to better assess the situation and deal with it accordingly.

As a part of Wisconsin Act 28, the rule comes after 10 years of state efforts to understand and curb instances of racial profiling. Gov. Doyle and two former governors have all taken actions on racial disparity previously, but statistics still indirectly suggest that profiling is occurring under the current system.

Data shows, for example, black inmates make up 40 percent of state prison population, while only six percent state residents are black. By writing the well-intentioned rule into its 2010-11 state budget, Wisconsin could make a productive change in the way it enforces the law.

In comparison, Illinois started collecting traffic stop data in 2004. Four years later, people already saw the disappearance of the gap between the percentages of stopped minorities and the overall driving population. Comprehensive and objective law enforcement is something that we deserve as citizens of Wisconsin, and in many ways it is a wonder that action was not taken sooner.

A big impact of the provision will be unifying policies among state police departments. Currently, initiatives to curb racial disparity are virtually up to individual agencies. Madison, for example, has already been complying with the same rule for some time. Its community-oriented policing style, which focuses more on public service, naturally makes the data collection a more urgent priority.

On the other hand, bigger cities like Milwaukee put a much greater emphasis on crime reduction rather than the problem of racial profiling. But since over half of the Wisconsin black population live in Milwaukee, racial disparity is a pressing issue for the city and thus deserves more attention. Once Wisconsin Act 28 comes into effect, all counties will be required to check on their law enforcement. This could improve the overall efficiency of police departments and foster cooperations between agencies.

Profiling is an insidious form of racism based on stereotypes that leads to unwarranted arrests due to things like aggressive or unsure police officers following procedures. What kind of message does this send to the youth of the black community, knowing that they could be prejudiced without evidence in police situations? According the Governor's Task Force on racial profiling in 2000, ""public perceptions of racial profiling erode public confidence and trust in law enforcement."" This makes it more difficult for law enforcement officers to perform their duties.

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These counterproductive concepts of authority must not be allowed to perpetuate, and the first step to stopping this is to include race for all arrests in Wisconsin.

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