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Racial Profiling Allegations Bring Calls for Statewide Data Collection
By Amy Radil
June 15, 2000
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Minnesota state senators say combating the disproportionate targeting of minorities in traffic stops will be a high priority in next year's legislative session, and they envision bills requiring data collection on the practice statewide. At a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Crime Prevention Committees, Twin Cities minorities described repeated traffic stops, which they believe resulted from so-called racial profiling. They said something must be done in order for minorities to have any confidence in the law enforcement and justice systems. Metro-area police departments have begun collecting information on racial profiling, but legislators say stronger efforts are needed.
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HALF A DOZEN PEOPLE, all of them professionals living in the Twin Cities, appeared before the committee to describe encounters with what they believed was racial profiling. One man, a Latino judge, told legislators he felt like he was back in his hometown of Chicago when he was stopped and searched in East St. Paul two years ago, reportedly for not using his turn signal.

Another, an African-American lawyer, said over the course of 18 months he was stopped 14 times in Minneapolis, with two tickets resulting. He said he was losing faith in his government's ability to treat all people fairly. And John Solomon, an African-American former police officer, described being stopped recently with his 13-year-old son.

"We were coming from a ball game, I stop off at Broadway to get a burger because we wanted to grab something to eat there, I pull back out going towards the highway, get pulled over by the police, I said, 'Well what happened that I'm getting stopped?' He says, 'You look suspicious,'" Solomon recalled.

Solomon described another incident in St. Louis Park where he was stopped and his car impounded and towed away because police said there were problems with the former owner's license. He says his 26-year-old son has also faced numerous traffic stops and looks to him for answers he doesn't have.

"It's not very easy to live with here," Solomon said. "It's tough to deal with as a father to come have my son talk to me in that way and to feel helpless."

Solomon says he can also see the effects of racial profiling in the people he serves as a child-protection worker for Hennepin County. He says many clients are reluctant to trust him as a government employee.

University of Toledo professor David Harris told the committee the practice of racial profiling has been substantiated in numerous studies around the country.

"Everywhere, absolutely everywhere where a study has been done, where data has been gathered, all those studies despite being from different jurisdictions, concern different police departments, use different data and different methods, all those studies point in the same direction: this is real," Harris said.

"If traffic stops are being used as a surrogate to then inappropriately search someone's person or vehicle in attempts to find contraband or weapons, we want to start to isolate those behaviors."

- Michael Jordan, St. Paul police information officer
Harris said to address racial profiling, police departments should perform ongoing, independently designed studies in which they collect data on the race of all people stopped by police, whether the person was searched and whether a ticket was issued.

Last week, in a report on racial disparities in the war on drugs, the organization Human Rights Watch called for similar measures nationwide.

St. Paul police information officer Michael Jordan testified that the department has begun to collect such information, and will examine how police officers are using traffic stops.

"If traffic stops are being used as a surrogate to then inappropriately search someone's person or vehicle in attempts to find contraband or weapons, we want to start to isolate those behaviors," Jordan said.

Jordan says officers practicing racial profiling will receive further training and could face disciplinary actions. He says the St. Paul Police Department's new information gathering "will probably last forever," and is intended to change officers' behavior in deciding whom to pull over.

The Minneapolis Police Department has also begun documenting officers' traffic stops. DFL State Senator Jane Ranum of Minneapolis, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said she was glad to hear of the departments' efforts, but she plans to propose a bill next year to mandate information gathering statewide as well as other steps to address profiling.

"We also heard about the need to link this to recruitment efforts and to training efforts, it's not one thing but what I heard loudly and clearly was, collect the data in a comprehensive manner," Ranum said.

The Twin Cities' chapters of the Urban League and the NAACP will be establishing hotlines for reports of racial profiling. They also plan to hold two public hearings, in St. Paul August 8 and Minneapolis August 10.