Wisconsin may have a race problem when it comes to law enforcement. African Americans account for 43 percent Wisconsin’s prison population but they represent only 6 percent of the state’s total population. This disproportionate statistic has caused officials to take a closer look in order to determine if racial profiling is significant problem in law enforcement.
One of the questions to be studied is: what role does race play in an officer’s decision to pull over a suspect? The state is about to enact a law that will make it mandatory for police officers to record statistical data about each traffic stop, including the race of the driver. Every traffic stop must be recorded, including DUIs, Drug Possession, and even vehicle maintenance issues. This data will be reported statewide to help determine if African Americans are being unfairly targeted by police.
In larger areas such as Milwaukee this data is already recorded electronically. For smaller towns which use older paper methods, this could mean increased costs and more time spent to record this information.
Once all 650 law enforcement agencies are regularly reporting this data, it could be highly valuable in cases of criminal defense. If the data shows a disproportionate number of stops for African American drivers, proof of racial bias could strengthen a defendant’s case.
The public will have to wait until July of 2012 for the first results to be published. If racial profiling is a problem in Wisconsin this mandatory data collection is the first step towards solving it. Successful and fair criminal defense is only possible in a justice system which is color blind.
Source: The Wisconsin State Journal online, “Police in state must record race data,” Carrie Antlfinger, 3 January, 2011