Police already track race, age, and sex of citizens they detain or stop for possible crimes. Because they do so we actually are able to know as a fact that police stop blacks for citations and to question in numbers far greater than whites. In Missouri, particularly in St. Louis County, the problem was highlighted by protesters in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting. There, small municipalities got significant media attention due to the way they used police citations to milk the minority citizenry in order to make their budgets. As a result, the state passed a law capping the percentage of revenue for its budget that communities can get from traffic citations.
Now Missouri's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), working with both a Democrat and a Republican state legislator in the St. Louis area, has introduced new legislation to expand what police officers will have to report about the people that they stop. Under this new legislation, introduced Tuesday, Missouri police would report for all traffic and pedestrian stops, "The perceived race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, English language proficiency or national origin of the individual stopped." That's a lot of stuff for the police to guess at. I look forward to police reports that note, "When asked if he knew how fast he had been traveling, subject responded, 'Girl, please.'"
The goal, the local ACLU head explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is to track down other forms of police bias in stopping people:
"There exists police bias across many categories," said ACLU-Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman, "and it's important to address them all." …
In 2014 in Missouri, according to the state's annual data, black drivers were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites. Blacks and Hispanics also were more likely to be searched as a result of those stops — even though white drivers were more likely to be in possession of drugs, weapons or other illegal contraband.
The proposed legislation would impose a range of consequences for police departments that show a pattern of racial profiling, including added officer training requirements, state funding reductions and even department de-certification.
There's also another component to the ACLU's proposed Fair and Impartial Policing Act that doesn't get attention in the Post-Dispatch's reporting.
The act replaces the existing state law for reporting bias trends in stopping drivers and pedestrians. In addition to adding more minority categories to analyze and introducing state-level penalties, it also adds a section introducing liability, allowing citizens who believe they've been subjected to a bias-based police stops to sue for "compensatory and punitive damages; injunctive and declaratory relief; and other relief as a court deems appropriate." Actually, they don't have to necessarily prove to be a direct victim. An alternative action to create liability occurs when an individual or organization brings a case to prove a "disparate impact" on individuals based on perception of membership in any of the above-mentioned categories.
That sounds like an area where the ACLU is perfectly situated to get involved, doesn't it? It makes the proposal end up feeling like a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, we do want to find ways to make sure police are held responsible for abusive behavior, particularly where it's being enforced in expansive trends that essentially terrorize neighborhoods. But this also smacks of being a lawsuit generator with fairly lax thresholds.
Read the full law here and decide for yourself.
(Hat tip to Mark Sletten.)