Washington's State Patrol to Note Race, Gender in Traffic Stops

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
September 24, 1999 12:00 am

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OLYMPIA, WA — In an effort to guard against racial profiling, Washington State Patrol troopers will soon record the race and gender of everyone they stop, Chief Annette Sandberg said yesterday.

The move comes in the wake of a national outcry this year over alleged police targeting of minorities for traffic stops and investigations — a practice dubbed racial profiling, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Starting Oct. 1, state troopers must include race and gender along with name, address and alleged violations in forms they already fill out when they initiate contact with a citizen, Sandberg said.

The chief said her order isn’t in response to complaints, but is intended to help spot any trends and patterns.

“Citizens of our state need to have confidence that we are fairly and equitably enforcing the laws. And it’s not always enough just for us to say we are,” she said.

Sandberg said she knows of no cases of officers being disciplined for profiling. However, she suspects there have been occasions when troopers accused of racial targeting justified their actions with probable cause that “was pretty skinny.”

The majority of troopers don’t target minorities, Sandberg said. But she said she doesn’t want to wait until it is too late to deal with problems, such as when a lawsuit is filed.

“If somebody is (profiling), we don’t want them taking down the rest of the department,” Sandberg said.

Doug Honig, an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman, said he believes the State Patrol is the first police agency in the state to institute such a policy.

“It’s a positive step because there are widespread complaints (of profiling) from people in the minority community,” Honig said.

“The first step in getting a handle on whether it’s a problem in any particular area is to gather the statistics.”

In Seattle, dozens of people at a June public forum sponsored by several community, church and civil rights groups complained about profiling by police officers in general.

“Certainly, we did find overwhelmingly that there is a great deal of profiling going on in the state of Washington,” said Oscar Eason Jr., president of the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the sponsors.

The issue of profiling was brought to the national forefront this year in the wake of traffic stops based on a driver’s race, and concern over police shootings of young black men in New York, Pittsburgh and Riverside, Calif., the Post-Intelligencer reported.

North Carolina has outlawed profiling. In April, leaders of 23 Portland-area law enforcement agencies signed a resolution against profiling. Two months later, President Clinton ordered all federal agencies to collect such data. Several other cities have followed suit, including Houston, San Diego and San Jose.

Four times a year, supervisors will be sent records of each troopers’ activities. If the numbers indicate problems, the response could range from individual discipline to beefed-up training, Sandberg said.

“If you don’t have the data, you don’t know whether you need to do the training,” Sandberg said.

The Washington State Patrol Troopers Association wants to see exactly what this will mean for troopers, especially whether it will lead to discipline, before coming out for or against the policy, said Bill Hanson, president of the union.

“If it helps patrol show the public that we’re not (profiling) that will be fine,” Hanson said. “It’s just one more thing that the trooper has to do out there and let’s just see how it works. We’re watching it carefully.”

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