The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Police to track racial profiling in traffic stops

  • Gov. Doyle's budget originally called for police officers to track the races of those they stopped, but to keep those records confidential.
  • The budget has been reworded and the records are now proposed to be made public.
  • The ACLU alleges Wisconsin has a racial disparity in its traffic stops, while the Attorney General's office denies this.

Gov. Jim Doyle has corrected his budget proposal, which originally called for race data on traffic stops to be collected, but not made public.

Lee Sensenbrenner, a spokesman for Doyle, said the language keeping the records confidential was left in the budget unintentionally.

The budget is several hundred pages long, and has undergone many revisions and corrections in a short timeframe, Sensenbrenner said. Doyle meant for the traffic-stop data to be made public.

"That was the governor's intention," Sensenbrenner said. "The rationale is that these records should be public."

A letter was sent to Madison last week with the change, he said.

Law enforcement departments in counties with a population of more than 125,000 would be required to collect the data beginning in 2011. The 11 counties are Brown, Dane, Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Racine, Rock, Washington, Waukesha and Winnebago.

The proposal calls to record the reason for the stop, the race of the driver and any passengers searched.

The proposal was originally written to have the 11 counties reporting the same data, but it was to be kept confidential.

Some police departments already voluntarily record and report race data from traffic stops.

Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel said his department has been doing this for more than ten years. Every year, the data is given to the City Council and used in presentations to community groups.

"Everything we do is subject to open records laws," Hardel said. "The pendulum is swinging so that pretty much everything is open."

Despite the openness of some departments, a perception that officers treat people of different races differently does exist, said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"There certainly is a perception (that) people of color are being treated differently by police," Ahmuty said. "Data management, it sort of gets everything out."

He said by recording the facts and making them public, Wisconsin can see if there is a problem.

"Let's look at what's happening," Ahmuty said.

The Attorney General's office disagrees with the assertion that Wisconsin has a racial bias when it comes to traffic stops.

"It hasn't been indicated to be a problem in Wisconsin," said Kevin St. John, a spokesman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "Wisconsin has a record of applying the law equally."

St. John said information such as Social Security numbers could be withheld, but the rest should be public, since police departments are public institutions.

"What we do as public entities, with some very traditional exceptions that are understood, are public records," St. John said. "And (the records) should be open to the public. This is what local or county or state officials do as part of their positions."

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