The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is dismayed legislators are seeking to repeal a new tool for police managers seeking to identify and address possible racial profiling in officer initiated traffic stops. Today the Senate Committee on Transportation and Elections voted to send SB-15 to the full Senate for a vote to repeal our state's new traffic stop data collection system.
On January 1, 2011 most law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin began collecting data from traffic stops and searches which includes the actual or perceived race or ethnicity of the motorists they stop. The intention of the new traffic stop data collection system is to make it possible determine if a law enforcement agency or one of its units is disproportionately stopping minority motorists. If so, the agencies' leaders would be able to investigate and determine the degree to which the disparity may be the result of biased policing.
At the public hearing on the bill to repeal traffic stop data collection, it was clear there was a lot of confusion about the new system. The ACLU of Wisconsin testified at the bill's public hearing on February 16, 2011 urging legislators to address problems with implementation rather than denying that biased policing can happen here. Very small agencies may not have the computer capacity to automatically load most of the data requested at the time of a traffic stop -- however -- that is no reason to scuttle a useful and manageable way to address a real problem for law enforcement all across our state.
To give up on a data collection system, that like most other data systems, is bound to have glitches during startup, suggests that opponents of data collection do not take bias in policing seriously. Wisconsin residents from across Wisconsin during a series of listening sessions in late 2009 told of their well-founded concerns. Wisconsin law enforcement officials, community leaders, and national experts were involved in the development of the new system for the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. If the Senate votes to repeal traffic stop data collection, it will send the wrong message. Rather than being problem solvers, they will be moving against the mainstream of law enforcement professionals nationwide who are committed to eliminating bias in policing.