The long arm of racial profiling;Rather than denying it exists, suburbs' chiefs target practice
By Lawrence Sussman
Just last week, the issue took up the better part of a day at the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association convention in Oshkosh.
In Mequon, which some have considered the poster community for racial profiling, Police Chief E. Doyle Barker quietly issued an order forbidding the stopping of motorists simply because of the color of their skin.
And in Waukesha County, deputies have been keeping racial data on every motorist stopped on I-94 for a year.
For years, police chiefs in Wisconsin have denied that their departments practiced racial profiling.
But Hans Lux, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the Village of Eagle police chief, said, "There is anecdotal evidence and a perception that there is a problem, and we need to deal with that."
Earlier this month, Gov. Scott McCallum signed his first executive order, which compels all law enforcement agencies in the state to ban racial profiling and to carry out recommendations from a report by then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's Task Force on Racial Profiling.
The task force "strongly recommended" that law enforcement agencies collect the data needed to track racial profiling but left collection voluntary.
Several police and sheriff's departments in metropolitan Milwaukee, including the Milwaukee County and Waukesha County sheriff's departments, recently have adopted policies banning racial profiling.
Some departments are also considering installing cameras in squad cars and determining who officers are stopping and for what reasons.
But officials say it's not a simple task to differentiate between good police work and racial harassment.
"The bottom line is if you're going to have an individual that is a racist, I don't know if you could ever change that attitude with that individual," Milwaukee County Sheriff Lev Baldwin said Friday.
"What we can do, though, is attempt to identify who that person is, and if, in fact, they are doing profiling or things that are inappropriate, then we will deal with them through the disciplinary process up to and including dismissal."
During the last year, Waukesha County sheriff's deputies had roughly 3,000 contacts with motorists on I-94 between Highway 83 in Delafield and the Milwaukee County line, Sheriff William Kruziki said Friday. About 85% of the stops involved white motorists and the remainder included minority motorists.
"The majority of those were stops during darkness," the sheriff said, "and we haven't determined that anyone was practicing racial profiling. They're just out there doing their job."
Lux, from the chiefs association, said his association wants to get beyond using anecdotal evidence.
"What we need to do is to have data that can be analyzed in a proper fashion to make that determination." That probably will require having academics, knowledgeable in police work, analyze the data, he added.
New Mequon policy
Last October, Mequon Police Chief Barker issued a policy condemning racial profiling, possibly the first in the state. It requires an officer to have reasonable suspicion -- "more than a mere hunch" -- that a law has been violated before the officer can stop and question a person.
What makes that noteworthy is that the Mequon Police Department had a less than sterling reputation among some minorities during early 1990s, according to Irv Palmer, president of the Ozaukee County branch of the NAACP.
But Palmer said that under Barker, the chief since 1995, things are much better.
"Mequon is probably one of the most forward-thinking departments in terms of inclusion," Palmer said. "They are proactive."
He gave as an example the department's Citizens' Police Academy, which gives citizens nine three-hour sessions on what it's like to be a Mequon police officer.
"They have invited members of the NAACP and other racial groups in an effort to create an understanding of how the department runs on a daily basis," Palmer said. "I think those type of policies have resulted in a more informed police staff and public, which results in a reduction of incidents that would be considered targeted profiling."
The Village of Jackson Police Department last November endorsed a policy that says the department "does not condone nor will it tolerate race- based generalizations and acts, which include racial profiling, uttering racial epithets or making law enforcement decisions based on race."
Police Chief Jed Dolnick, who has been on the job for two weeks, said Friday that he did not know if adopting such rules would change the mind-set of a racist police officer.
But, he added, "If the officers know that, starting with the chief, this type of behavior violates the values of the department, then we make it clear that the behavior is not going to be accepted."
Milwaukee County Sheriff Baldwin said there's a difference between harassment and good police work.
"A black guy in River Hills is just as out of place as a white guy in the inner city late at night," Baldwin said. "It's unfortunate that we're saying they're out of place, but the reality is just that."
"Officers ought to have their attention piqued," he added. "But that doesn't mean they have to stop him."
"Profiling can't be tolerated," Baldwin said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Scott McCallum signed an executive order requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to cease racial profiling, which is the use of racial and ethnic stereotypes by police in determining whom to stop and search.
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