Utah Legislator to Introduce Racial Profiling Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
December 22, 1999 12:00 am

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SALT LAKE CITY — In a move likely to kindle debate over allegations of racial profiling by Utah police agencies, state Rep. Duane Bourdeaux plans to sponsor legislation that would require police to record and monitor statistics on the race of all motorists they stop.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake City, said he was spurred by numerous complaints from minorities who say they have been stopped because of their color — not their driving. “I’ve had problems personally,” said Bourdeaux, the state’s only African-American lawmaker.

The paper reported that the third-year representative is taking every precaution not to alienate police agencies with his potentially divisive bill. Toward that end, he met with more than a dozen police and minority representatives Tuesday in a two-hour session at the Capitol to pore over a first draft of the legislation.

“My goal is not to strike out against law enforcement,” Bourdeaux said. “But there is truly a perception in the minority communities that this is happening, and the only way to get this information is to have a standardized reporting process.”

Under the draft legislation, police agencies would be required to submit annual reports to the Attorney General’s Office and the Governor’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice detailing the racial makeup of every traffic stop. Failure to provide information would result in the state withholding funds from the offending agency.

Utah minorities have long held that police unfairly target them. But whether racial profiling is occurring is difficult to determine because little data is kept on what led to a traffic stop and virtually no information is available if a ticket is not issued.

Police are already objecting to early language of the bill that would require them to collect racial data each time they pull over a motorist for any reason.

Minority groups, however, generally favor such data collection. A Salt Lake Tribune investigation in 1998 found that black drivers were twice as likely to get a ticket and Latinos were nearly three times as likely as whites to receive a traffic citation. Salt Lake City Police Chief Ruben Ortega has disputed the data. And the Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System heard widespread allegations of profiling in a series of 27 public meetings held across the state.

The task force plans to release a full report sometime in January, which is expected to include beefed up requirements for data collection throughout the state’s criminal justice system. Bourdeaux’s bill is believed to be the first such legislation proposed in Utah.

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