A state law and computer glitches are not acceptable excuses for the St. Cloud Police Department to delay tracking the racial backgrounds of drivers at traffic stops.
Yet those are the main reasons Police Chief Dennis O'Keefe gives in explaining why the department has not undertaken that task this year.
They are not valid reasons because neither is a necessity for tracking this information.
St. Cloud simply needs to consult some of the roughly 400 other police departments tracking this data, ask how they do it, set up an appropriate system and begin.
It doesn't have to be rocket science. For example, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments this spring began tracking racial data at traffic stops in as simple a way as possible.
When officers make a traffic stop they judge the person's race and radio their guess to a dispatcher who logs it into a computer database. Officers communicate it in a numerical code and it takes about 10 seconds.
Sure, the officers might not be right. But at least these systems provide a basis for addressing concerns that police may be stopping people because of their skin color.
While O'Keefe says St. Cloud is willing to track race, he cites a need to change the city's traffic tickets to do so. He wants race information added to tickets, but state law prevents that.
Why delay this much-needed checkup until the law is changed? Plus, what good will putting it on a ticket do?
The Legislature likely will examine this bureaucratic issue in 2001 as part of a larger debate on how racial profiling should be studied statewide.
In addition to ticket forms, topics could include everything from what to do with results to deciding whether race should be in a driver's license profile.
And while if done correctly, that is the best long-term solution to gathering racial data, St. Cloud should not wait for the Legislature to act.
Even if it's just having an officer use pencil and paper, move ahead now with tracking the race of people stopped for traffic violations.
--St. Cloud Times
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