(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When the racial profiling law was instituted in August 2000, the goal was to prevent police from targeting people because of race. But, as statistics for 2001 were compiled and turned into the state before the March 1 deadline, it is becoming clear that the law has flaws.
The racial profiling law for Missouri, which is the strongest and most comprehensive state laws combating racial profiling, was signed in June 2000 by the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. The measure went into effect Aug. 28, 2000, requiring every police agency in the state to track up to 14 categories of information after every traffic stop, including the race and age of the driver.
Law enforcement agencies must compile the information and submit an annual report to the Missouri attorney general's office by March 1. Once received, the information is put together for a report that will go to the General Assembly and the governor.
From the start, the law was not well-received by law enforcement. Many believed it was a waste of time and time seems to be the biggest complaint from many of the departments.
"It takes an average of about 30 minutes a day to input the information into the computer," said Sikeston Department of Public Safety Captain Joe Sebourn. "Then to prepare the year-end report takes about two weeks, or about 80 hours."
The whole process begins on a traffic stop. The officer will fill out a racial profiling form then turn it in at DPS headquarters. The forms are inputted into the computer system daily.
The most tedious part of the process is compiling the statistics for the year-end report, which calls for the breakdown for each race: white, African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and other; and the breakdown of ages and gender.
In 2001, Sikeston DPS made 2,179 traffic stops. Of those stops, 1,413 were white and 715 were black. Seventeen were Hispanic, one was American Indian and eight were Asian while 25 were classified as other.
Of those traffic stops, 1,282 were male and 897 were female. The 18-29 age group was stopped 988 times, while 579 stops were of people 40 and over. The 30-39 age group was stopped 415 times and under 18 was stopped 197 times.
While Sikeston DPS has the manpower to prepare the reports other law enforcement agencies do not. Last March, 20 percent of police departments failed to return the proper paperwork by the deadline. A vast majority of those non-compliant police and sheriff departments were located in small towns or rural counties that lack the funding and manpower to complete the paperwork.
Sebourn said some departments also don't abide by the racial profiling law because they feel it is a violation of the Hancock Amendment, which states that additional services are not to be imposed without full state funding.
"If the state wants us to do this, then they should provide us the resources and equipment to do it," Sebourn said, who also added the city had to develop their own ticket profile form and pay for the printing.
Some equipment that could help save time is a scanner, Sebourn said. When the officer fills out his racial profiling card he could then take it back to the office and swipe it across a scanner, which would store the information.
Time and money is not the only problem with the law. While the goal is to prevent officers from targeting race, a quick glance of the racial profiling card officers fill out on a traffic stop shows there is no place to identify which officer is making the stop. Therefore, the whole department is penalized and the officer who may have the problem is not identified.
Another problem could be demographics because areas where the stops are made are not taken into consideration. For example, if an officer were patrolling in a certain area where one race is predominant, a majority of an officer's stops will be of that race. In order to combat that, Sikeston DPS along with some other law enforcement agencies have included what districts the stops were made on their forms. However, on the information submitted to the state, the information does not appear.
The state, in an effort to improve the law, has made some minor changes for 2002, however, they still do not cover the issues mentioned above. For the time being, law enforcement agencies must do their best to conform to the current law.
"If (the state) says this is what we have to do, then this is what we will do," Sebourn said.