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Get Facts About Racial Profiling, Official Warns
by Brant Williams
June 28, 2000
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A new work group formed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is trying to get facts on racial profiling . The group's first meeting comes after a hearing earlier this month where lawmakers heard anecdotal evidence of racial profiling.
The Justice Gap

Racial Profiling

A GROUP OF ABOUT 20 law enforcement officials, legislators and heads of non-profit organizations met at the Capitol Tuesday to figure out the best way to use empirical information to confirm or deny the practice of racial profiling in Minnesota.

Group members expressed differing opinions of the scope of the problem. However, none of them denied there is the perception that racial profiling exists; even Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver, who was criticized in March for saying that he didn't think racial profiling was a problem in Minnesota.

"I don't think anybody believes that profiling doesn't happen," Weaver said. "Many people have been quoted saying, 'You've got to have your head in the sand if you think profiling doesn't occur.' I don't think it happens in any systematic way in Minnesota, but it does happen. And even if it doesn't happen, the perception of people is that it does. So we've got to deal with that. What I'm hoping this committee can do - the best way to deal with that perception or that reality - is to have facts."

Group members also acknowledged that perceptions of discriminatory practices by police have led communities of color to mistrust law enforcement.

Michael Jordan, the public information coordinator for the St. Paul Police Department, said the collection of data without leading to consequences for law enforcement officers will not win that trust back.

"Year after year allegations are made, and even in some cases evidence is substantiated, that certain people behave in an inappropriate fashion, but yet they remain on their jobs," Jordan said. "They are available to still perpetrate on communities what the communities think is unfair, unequal, bigoted, racially oriented treatment. I've lived in Minneapolis my whole life and I've heard this same conversation five times in the last 40 years. So the fact that people keep hearing us say, 'Oh yeah, we'll study this, we'll do this, we'll do that,' but we don't see any substantive change is one of the major eroding powers in this trust issue."

However, the idea that the data could be used against police officers is exactly what troubles Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Peace and Police Officers Association.

"Will I be able to say from that, 'Well St. Paul has 11 percent minority population, but yet officer Smith, 30 percent of the traffic stops that were made by Officer Smith were members of the minority communities so therefore Officer Smith must have a problem.' Will we draw some conclusions that the officer will find himself in disciplinary situations?"

Flaherty represents 6,500 police officers. He said a majority of police officers are offended by the accusations of racial profiling. Sitting to the immediate right of Flaherty was Sabathani Community Center Director Jim Cook, who took exception to Flaherty's comments.

"I'm walking over here as well as some of my other colleagues and saying to ourselves, there is a problem out here, now on your end you're saying that you're convinced that there's not a problem," Cook said. "I'm not here to all of a sudden suddenly conject one and pull it out of the sky and say, 'Hey, you know what, we don't have anything to do but there's racial profiling going on.'"

The first meeting of the group resulted in more questions than answers. The group will continue to meet once every three weeks.