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Racial Profiling: Are We Fighting It the Right Way?

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Racial Profiling: Are we Fighting it the Right Way?

Racial Profiling: Are we Fighting it the Right Way?

I would like to talk about an issue that is plaguing our community today and making the job of a Police Officer even more difficult than it already is. All for one reason, statistics!!

Racial profiling to me is a lot like any other problem in our society today. Many have different opinions on why it happens, and what we should do about it if it does happen. The problem is nobody can come to a consensus on how to solve this problem. It seems to me that racism is still part of our society, and sadly, I think it always will be. We all have prejudices of some sort towards others. It may be because of race, sex, sexual preference, rich, poor, ugly, or pretty. I am not saying that this is right, but we as a society need to realize that this problem will never completely go away. We need to adapt to it, work around it, or through it.

Recently, at the end of 2000, many states including Missouri addressed this problem of Racial Profiling. They decided that statistics needed to be obtained, by having each police officer fill in a form for each traffic stop. The forms ask many questions pertaining to the stop including probable cause for the stop, was a search conducted, and also the race of the driver. Each department from each city or county was required to complete and turn these forms over to the state, so the statistics for each city or county could be compiled. The two parts the state centered on were the Disparity index (proportion of stops/portion of population in the city or county. A value of 1 represents no disparity; values greater than 1 indicate over representation.) and the Search rate (searches/stops x 100). Keep in mind that these statistics only covered the last four months of the year 2000. The entire state of Missouri showed a disparity index of .97 for whites and 1.27 for blacks, also a 6.34% search rate for whites and an 11.01% search rate for blacks. The County of St Louis showed a disparity index of .93 for whites and 1.33 for blacks, also a search rate of 9.77% for whites and 13.11% for blacks. These statistics show that police are stopping and searching blacks more than whites, but it is inaccurate. The statistics leave out many important factors. The following was part of St Louis County's response to these statistics:

While the data compiled in this report is informative, any conclusions drawn from this data must be tempered with common sense. For example, population data used to calculate the disparity index does not include members of the minority community that reside in St Louis City and therefore increases the diversity of drivers on the roads within St Louis County. Nor does the data reflect that in a majority of traffic stops, police officers do not know the race of the driver prior to initiating the traffic stop. (Missouri Attorney Generals Office, Annual Report on Traffic Stops, 2000)

There are many important factors in a traffic stop that were left out of these statistics. Searches are almost always performed when there is an outstanding warrant. Of the black drivers that were stopped in the state of Missouri 9% had outstanding warrants, compared to white drivers who were stopped, only 2% had outstanding warrants. Another factor that was left out was that the presence of interstate highways, large shopping centers, and major employers affect the demographics of the driving population (as apposed to the resident population reported in the census) and will affect the proportionality of stops and arrests.(Missouri Attorney Generals Office, Annual Report on Traffic Stops, 2000)

Some civil rights activists and public defenders believe the only way to root out bad Police Officers is to keep track of the tickets each officer writes. Police Chief's and Police Officers country wide think that is inherently unfair. A good example of this is if a police officer is assigned to a neighborhood with large numbers of minorities he/she will inevitably write more tickets to the minority population than other officers assigned to predominantly white neighborhoods. In turn officers in minority neighborhoods would be branded unfairly. These officers would protect themselves and not write as many tickets. The minority neighborhoods would then not get the same level of police protection as others. I have seen this also happening with the profiling forms that officers complete for after each traffic stop. Police officers are picking and choosing their traffic stops more often to keep their numbers even. This is hurting police work more than it is helping to solve the problem of racial profiling. (, Thorny Racial Profiling Debate, Feb.



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