Senators Weigh Costs and Benefits of Collecting Racial Profiling Data

Feb 17, 2016

A bill aimed at preventing racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement passed a State Senate subcommittee on Wednesday. Key components of the NAACP-penned legislation include training, a community-policing advisory board, and mechanisms for tracking officer interactions in hopes of identifying racially motivated stops.

"Racial profiling is often a principal reason that African-Americans are often stopped and searched," says Betty Andrews, head of the NAACP's Iowa-Nebraska Chapter. "This is affecting people's lives in every area of their life. In terms of economics, because they have to deal with being in the criminal justice system. In terms of family dynamics, and so on." 

The Prison Policy Initiative says black inmates make up 23 percent of Iowa prisoners, but just over three percent of the entire state population.  A 2013 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study ranks Iowa 3rd nationwide for the percentage of black men in the state who are incarcerated.  Both Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady have called on lawmakers this year to focus on criminal justice reform.  

Critics of the NAACP bill say they are not against combating racial profiling, but argue some of the bill's data-collection requirements place too onerous of a financial and administrative burden on law enforcement agencies.

"Under the bill law enforcement is required to collect a significant amount of data and compile reports.... [this] takes our officers off the streets and they spend their time doing reports," says Kellie Paschke of the Iowa Peace Officers Association. 

"It's going to have cost for the local agencies as well, because of the forms and the software changes," adds Susan Cameron, who represents the Iowa State Sheriff's and Deputies' Association. "The time of the stop will be longer, so potentially you're going to have to have more patrol."  

Instead Paschke and Cameron suggest much of the data can be collected through information embedded in driver's licenses.  They say using DOT software has the added benefit of not forcing officers to guess a person's race.

"We recognize the concerns about resources, but we strongly view this as prevention money," says Stephanie Fawkes-Lee of Justice Reform Consortium. "I think it's more than going to pay for itself."   

The Iowa ACLU, which supports efforts to combat racial profiling, it is currently registered as "undecided" in its support of the legislation, due concerns about personal data collection. 

"I want to be explicit that we support the effort, that we support the work, " says the ACLU's Pete McRoberts. "[But] if any agency has that much data, we feel there needs to be very, very significant procedural safeguards."  

While most most of the lawmakers and lobbyists in attendance were white, Des Moines-area tech entrepreneur Eddie Andrews, who is married to Betty Andrews, gave a firsthand account of the racial profiling he's experienced as a black man. 

"[I'm] a concerned citizen who's been stopped doing 65 in a 65, 54 in a 55, 30 in a 30, and at a gas station, among other things," says Eddie Andrews. "So I'm certainly in support of the bill." 

State Sen. Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, moved the bill out of subcommittee so as to meet an administrative deadline. She says, "This bill's chances on the floor require all of us to come together, and try and get some solutions that are workable."