By Mike Wilson, The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa State Patrol must improve communications with minority groups and increase diversity within its ranks, according to a new report.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety report resulted from community meetings held earlier this year across the state. Nearly 140 people attended the four meetings, including representatives from the state's Hispanic, black and Asian populations, the report said.
Several who attended described an array of incidents that appeared to be clear cases of racial and bias-based profiling, the report said. But the report did not detail any specific cases.
Other issues raised during the meetings included a language barrier and communication problems between troopers and minorities; a history of hostile interactions with minority detainees creating a sense of fear; and a lack of diversity within the state patrol leading to cultural biases by some troopers.
Jim Saunders, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday there was no tangible evidence law enforcement officers purposefully stopped people because of their race.
"But the study did indicate minorities were more likely to be asked to have their vehicles searched," Saunders said.
A problem communicating with non-English speaking residents, or those who don't speak English fluently, may be a contributing factor to the increased requests for searches, Saunders said.
John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, director of the Iowa Division of Latino Affairs, said the communication problem is a significant issue for minorities in Iowa.
"It's important that officers have the ability to speak other languages and having that communication not only after someone is taken to the police station, but at the time of the stop as well," Chaisson-Cardenas said. "If an officer can't communicate well with someone ... they will err on the side of safety."
Chaisson-Cardenas said it's important for officers to be able to communicate with and understand the cultural differences of the people they encounter.
"Not only when they're working with witnesses, but when people come to them for services," he said.
Saunders said the next step is to begin enacting the recommendations, which are:
- Improve the level of trust between communities and the Iowa State Patrol.
- Eliminate bias-based policing in the patrol.
- Improve communication and language capabilities of troopers.
- Increase diversity and cultural competency within the patrol.
- Educate the public on state patrol protocol and their rights.
Kimberly Baxter, director of the Iowa Commission on the Status of African Americans, commended the patrol for recognizing the issue of racial profiling.
"They could have said nothing was wrong and done nothing about it, but they didn't," Baxter said.
She also said the inability of some troopers to communicate with and understand the culture of those they stop is a problem.
"Understanding one's culture is one step toward improving communication," she said.