The “Racial Profiling” issue rears its ugly head again
MJS reporter Mike Johnson wrote an article in today’s paper titled, “Doyle budget would keep traffic stop data secret”. What I found most interesting is his, or his editor’s, subtitle which reads: Proposal would track racial bias. Not “suspected” racial bias or “alleged” racial bias or “possible” racial bias. Just RACIAL BIAS. The Journal’s position on this issue is apparent from that subtitle.
State Representative Jason Fields is leading this charge (I understand he has some experience with traffic stops) and is supported by State Representative Garey Bies (R – Sister Bay) who, the reporter carefully points out, is a former chief deputy for the Door County Sheriff’s Department (and we all know that Door County is a hotbed of traffic enforcement and crime-related activity which would make Bies some kind of expert on law enforcement issues). I’m surprised they didn’t get some help on this from State Senator Lena Taylor, who has some recent experience of her own with traffic citations (or maybe they did but the reporter just didn’t have enough room in his article to include that information).
Several Police Chiefs and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen oppose this proposal citing the costs associated with keeping these records (another unfunded mandate from the State and Doyle for local and county government -which translates into another tax you pay) and, because Doyle’s proposal (actually the proposal as it was established by Fields and Bies) calls for the data to be compiled but kept “secret”, Open Records advocates like Bill Lueders – president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council – are upset with it also.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, who recently said Doyle’s proposal to go to one license plate and eliminate registration stickers was a great way to go, says that traffic stops are a “crime-suppression tool” and have increased in Milwaukee “by 100%, with only about a 20% increase in citations”. He goes on to point out what any real cop has known for years, “We’re not trying to alienate people out there, but we are using highly visible law enforcement activity to create a climate of safety on the streets where violence has, sadly, been most common.” Be careful Chief Flynn. You’re getting dangerously close to being called “inflammatory; insensitive; and intolerable” when you start using that word “people” and when you use that term “highly visible law enforcement activity”. There are some (the usual suspects) who will read that to mean police harassment and will maintain that your statement is exactly why this proposal is needed (as if traffic stops and other examples of individual initiative were never encouraged for the same reasons by Chief Arthur Jones).
My answer to this: If the Fields, Bies, Doyle proposal goes through, then Police Officers should provide the State with the absolute most information possible whenever they make a traffic stop for any violation. To do that, they should issue a Uniform Traffic Citation rather than any kind of a formal or verbal warning. The greatest amount of information about a traffic stop is contained in the Uniform Traffic Citation and its narrative written by the Officer. By issuing the citation, the Officer avoids any hint that he only stopped the person because of their race. The “alleged” violator then either pays the citation, thereby admitting that he/she violated the traffic statute, or pleads his/her case in court where the Officer will then have to testify under oath as to the nature of the traffic stop. (Of course that means the “alleged” violator will also have to take an oath to tell the truth if he/she intends to testify, unless Fields, Bies, and Doyle think that’s too intimidating and change that part of the process too.) Of course, there is another alternative. Just don’t enforce the traffic laws. That would surely make people like Jason Fields and Lena Tayor happy.