Feb. 21, 2011 – The State Bar of Wisconsin is opposing a bill that would repeal a new program that requires law enforcement officers around the state to record and report racial and ethnic information about people they detain in traffic stops.
The Legislature enacted the program, which took effect Jan. 1, 2011, in order to compile empirical data regarding racial profiling in Wisconsin. Passed two years ago as part of the 2009-11 state budget, the program that the bill would repeal also requires law enforcement training designed to prevent racial profiling or race−based discrimination as a basis for detaining, searching, or arresting a person.
The state Senate’s Committee on Labor, Public Safety and Urban Affairs held a public hearing on the bill, Senate Bill 15, on Feb. 16, 2011.
Since 2002, the State Bar’s Board of Governors has supported state and federal efforts that seek to end racial and ethnic profiling.
“For the public to have trust and confidence in the justice system, it must believe that all persons are treated equally,” State Bar President James C. Boll, Jr., told committee members in memo. “The State Bar supports the collection and analysis of data with regard to racial and ethnic profiling. Further, upon the empirical evidence of such practices, we support mandates to end such practices as well as funding for training of law enforcement to address such practices.”
“The State Bar’s support for the measures that Senate Bill 15 would repeal did not occur in a vacuum,” Boll’s memo continued. “In November 1999, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson created the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Profiling. Gov. Thompson charged the Task Force with the responsibility of studying and making recommendations on the use of profiling when conducting traffic stops in Wisconsin.”
Madison civil rights attorney A. Steven Porter, a member of the board of the State Bar’s Civil Rights and Liberties Section, testified against the bill on behalf of the section, which also opposes the bill.
The final report of Gov. Thompson’s 1999 task force noted Wisconsin has a proud tradition of having some of the finest and most professional police officers in the nation. However, based on national trends and legislative activity on this issue, Gov. Thompson determined that a need existed for education and leadership on the issue.
When Governor Thompson’s task force issued its final report 10 years ago, it concluded:
“The extent of racial profiling cannot be determined without empirical study and comprehensive analysis. The Task Force and experts agree that data collection is an appropriate component for addressing racial profiling and is a component in effective management which can help build accountability and protect the integrity of law enforcement agencies and personnel. . . .
Based on information from national and local experts, it is strongly recommended that law enforcement agencies collect the necessary data to address racial profiling in an organized manner that permits the development of meaningful and useful information.”
In March 2007, Gov. Jim Doyle established the Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System, which issued its final report in February 2008. Echoing the recommendations of Gov. Thompson’s task force eight years earlier, the commission made the following recommendation: “Appropriate state agencies should be directed to conduct a county-by county baseline study of racial disparity using existing traffic citation and arrest data to determine disparity levels in the state.”
The Legislature adopted these recommendations in the 2009-11 biennial state budget, 2009 Act 28. Data collection began around the state less than two months ago, on January 1, 2011.
“Two task forces – one appointed by a Republican governor and one appointed by a Democratic governor – have made the same recommendation to the Legislature, which were finally adopted two years ago,” Boll told legislators. “The data collection just began this year. At best, to repeal this requirement now would signal that the Legislature has concluded, without any empirical basis, that racial profiling does not exist in Wisconsin or is not a significant problem. The State Bar of Wisconsin believes this is the wrong approach.”
“The current statute provides a way to resolve questions about racial profiling in Wisconsin with hard facts,” Boll concluded. “It should not be repealed.”
Continue to monitor WisBar.org and visit the State Bar’s Government Relations page for updated information on these issues.
By Adam Korbitz
, Government Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin
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