Racial profiling in WI: will seat belt enforcement help or hurt the problem?

13 Apr

Americans agree that sometimes police use racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes as a factor in selecting which motor vehicle drivers to stop and search. It’s called racial profiling and it is a practice that shouldn’t be a part of law enforcement. The trouble is it’s hard to get a hold of the scope of the problem if it isn’t well-defined and tracked.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wants law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of unlawful racial profiling and to stop it. But the Governor’s proposed budget includes a double-edged sword: funds for primary seat belt enforcement along with a data tracking requirement. In response to these budget provisions, the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a letter with our concerns to Representative Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) and the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance.

We are urging legislators, “to strengthen the proposed budget’s racial profiling section, and to evaluate (and potentially sunset) its primary seat belt enforcement section.”

“These two budget provisions are related because one will track the problem of racial profiling while the other allows primary seat belt enforcement that could exacerbate the problem of racial profiling,” said ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director, Chris Ahmuty.

“We are suggesting that Wisconsin go ahead with a trial of primary seat belt enforcement, but sunset it if analysis of the collected data determines that primary seat belt enforcement is a source of unlawful stops and searches based in part on racial profiling,” Ahmuty said. “Ever since the Governor Tommy Thompson created the Governor’s Task on Racial Profiling in 1999, we have been waiting for action. Ten years is long enough to wait.”

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