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Tradeoffs

Since I spent six very good years in Springfield, MO, I feel obliged to reproduce this bit from Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus today:

A propos: Several columns ago, I wrote an item on the theme, PC is not only obnoxious and offensive, but it can be outright dangerous. I received this response from Kirk Manlove of the Springfield, Mo., police department. I publish it with his permission. This gives us further insight into the challenges a police officer must deal with each day in modern America — challenges quite apart from the already extremely burdensome ones a police officer would have to face in a country uninfected by racial poison.

“Man,” writes Officer Manlove — a spokesman for his department — “you don’t know the half of it. Our state recently passed a racial-profiling law that requires police to document all traffic stops with race info. No problem — we’ve got no problem with that. The big problem is that if an officer exceeds the number of minority stops, regardless of the violation — and all this is in accordance with the city’s racial makeup — then he is considered a profiler and must be counseled by his supervisor and might be disciplined or required to attend cultural training. Example: Our city has a 4 percent black population. We had an officer make 33 traffic stops, 3 of which were of black motorists. Guess what? He’s a profiler.

“You show me a racist cop and I’ll show you a cop who can manipulate any data gathering designed to deter racial profiling. Any idiot can track stops using a notebook. If his numbers point in the wrong direction, simple: Start pulling over non-minorities.

“The results? In the past year our traffic stops dropped over 30 percent. What a surprise.

“Nobody in law enforcement disputes the fact you shouldn’t stop someone for race alone without probable cause, but this is having a chilling effect on law enforcement and presents an incredible challenge for law-enforcement commanders in trying to motivate officers to continue to make traffic stops. Officers are afraid of losing their state commissions or being the subject of a Department of Justice civil-rights suit.

“Here are some interesting facts and background for you. Missouri’s attorney general gathers these data and then issues an annual report on the state’s agencies. He uses U.S. census data to come up with the racial makeup of the city and then compares the stop data. For example, in 2001, out of 21,897 traffic stops, 6.10 percent were of black motorists, but the black population of this city is, as I’ve said, a little below 4 percent. The census counts only 18-year-olds and up, but the AG requires us to document all stops that include 16- and 17-year-olds. We made 1,557 stops of people under 18. In addition, we added a few lines to our data cards to track two things that the AG either doesn’t want us to track or simply doesn’t care about. The two questions we added this year are: ‘Does the driver reside in the city?’ and ‘Did the officer know the race of the driver prior to the stop?’

“The results that the AG doesn’t care about? 79.2 percent of the time, the officer didn’t know the race of the driver prior to the stop, and 27.4 percent of the motorists didn’t even reside in the city. Doesn’t matter: The AG issues his report stating that we are a ‘disparate’ department. Translation? We’re profilers, bearing the scarlet ‘P.’

“The editorial staff of our local paper is certainly not sympathetic, which is no surprise, and since they really couldn’t make much of an issue of a few percentage points on the traffic-stop stuff, especially since 80 percent of the time we can’t even tell what the driver’s race is, they wanted to focus on what happens after the stop. The search rate for black motorists is 21.26 percent vs. a search rate for whites of 11.60 percent. Not counting consent searches, police do two types of search: a probable-cause search and a search incident to arrest. The incident-to-arrest search is required. It must be done if you arrest the motorist, for two reasons: to search for evidence after an arrest, and to do an inventory search because of the towing of the car. Our paper neglects to tell its readers that black motorists, before searches are even initiated, are arrested 10.9 percent of the time on traffic stops due to DWI, warrants, drugs, etc., versus 6.9 percent for white motorists, which basically means that officers are going to be performing more required, nondiscretionary searches on the black motorists. Bottom line is: Yes, we are searching black drivers more. Why? Because they are arrested more often when the stop is made.

“Now, another piece of data our local media ignore is that officers give black drivers verbal warnings instead of tickets 56.1 percent of the time versus 52 percent for white motorists. Why is this? Simple: Officers don’t want to be ‘beefed’ or complained about by minority drivers or groups, and they are cutting black motorists a break that they don’t normally give white ones.

“Our officers are operating under strange frames of mind. I know for a fact that when our officers pull over a car and discover a minority driver, they are thinking purely numbers in their heads. ‘Great, a minority driver, wonder what my numbers are looking like?’

“Here’s another thought: Our officers are truly concerned that, God forbid they have to use deadly force on a black driver who may be trying to kill them, their traffic numbers will come to haunt them, because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ the media will request the officer’s traffic data, but ‘when,’ and our state considers them open records.

“Jay, I could go on and on, but I won’t.”

Again: Policing has got to be difficult enough. But with the burden of America’s racial hang-ups on one’s shoulders . . . it’s amazing that anyone volunteers for the force at all.

A final word, which I feel obliged to add: Police brutality — needless to say (or rather, it should be needless to say) — is a sin and a crime, and any society should be ever-vigilant against it. But the wrongful handcuffing of police owing to racial bullying and other nonsense: that, too, should be watched.

Hmm.... I've been away from Springfield for a while now, and can't say anything authoritatively about the cops there (in terms of their reputation for racial fairness). But the city isn't exactly known for its tolerance or diversity. The black population there, for example, is extremely low, a relic of the city's past history of public lynchings (which some people, when I lived there, still spoke of fondly). And there is an extremely conservative religious population (Springfield is headquarters of John Ashcroft's church!) that was very vocal in its opposition to homosexuals when I lived there (vocal in the sense that religious extremists were implicated in the torching of a gay activist's home, although nothing could ever be proved). When I was a student in Springfield, of course, I was much more interested in the local campus bar and grill than I was observing the social affairs of the city proper, but it always seemed like the cops didn't exactly interfere much when some of the local extremists decided to pursue "justice" on occasion.

I have a feeling that Springfield would probably scare me, now that I've lived in Montrose in Houston for a number of years.

But then again, Montrose doesn't have those beautiful Ozarks.

Damn tradeoffs.

[Posted at 22:47 CST on 07/16/02] [Link]

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