HR118 and Son
...by Mark Drake
By 1997, the national phenomenon of racially-based profiling in selecting targets for traffic stops had become sufficiently offensive that Congressman John Conyers introduced his HR 118 to address it. (See Spring 1997 and Winter 1998 issues of this newsletter.)
This bill would require each state's highway patrol (or equivalent) to keep a tally of basic information on all their traffic stops, including race, age and gender of driver, reason for stop and whether driver was cited, and (if a search was conducted) what the basis for the search was and what was found. These data (without names or other identifying information which could set up officers or their agencies for lawsuits) would be forwarded to the Feds, who would issue an annual statistical report -- which should make it obvious which states are (and which are not) conducting these stops honorably. Hang on a minute and we'll report how HR 118 is faring.
Meanwhile this spring, a black California Assemblyman from the L.A. area, Kevin Murray, was considering proposing a similar measure for this state, but with a provision to include traffic stops by any law enforcement agency -- not just the CHP. However, Murray was preparing to run for a shot at a seat in the State Senate in this June's primary, and felt he wouldn't be able to give his proposed legislation the attention it would necessitate in this election year, so he dropped it.
Well, come June he won the primary, and set off with his fiancee for a victory celebration dinner. Upon entering Beverly Hills, they were stopped by a city policewoman, who said she had run his license plates and they didn't check out. He explained that state policy was to protect the privacy of legislators by not including them in the database she was checking, and demonstrated that the papers he handed her were properly in order. But then he asked why she had run the plates in the first place -- since she had had no reason to stop him. At that point she got defensive.
So he promptly filed AB 1264, the "California Traffic Stops Statistics Act" which would require an annual report to the California Department of Justice by police agencies making traffic stops, to include:
___characteristics of the individual stopped, including race, age and gender;
___the alleged traffic infraction and whether a citation or warning was issued;
___if a search was conducted, the legal basis for it;
___what was found in the search, and any property seized;
___whether an arrest was made.
As with the Federal bill, no information identifying the officer or citizen would be included; just enough to establish whether the various agencies reporting are following the same ground rules.
So how are these bills doing?
HR 118 passed the House of Representatives a couple of months ago and is now stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee because its Chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, has declined to hold hearings on it. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein also sits on this committee, and the bill's supporters contend that a most effective strategy for getting it moving would be to persuade Feinstein that HR 118 is a necessary and significant step toward restoring eroded citizen confidence in police neutrality and fair play.
As to the State's AB 1264, it passed the California Senate's Public Safety Committee 6 - 1 (the ex-sheriff of Contra Costa County -- now a Senator -- the only dissenter) and is awaiting a much tougher hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee as of this writing. Various police organizations have come up with absurdly exaggerated "estimates" of the costs of tallying the data, in an obvious attempt to derail the bill without talking about what really bothers them -- the fact that these reports could demonstrate embarrassing truths about the practices of some police agencies.
Note that although both the Federal and State bills were inspired by racist practices and are specifically intended to force reform of these, both of them would also have the effect of quantifying the results of the increasingly intrusive screening and searching of motorists in general which we've been observing in CLMP country for the last several years. That is, they'd force the CHP to report the statistical information which it has been claiming it doesn't keep track of when it conducts road sweep operations.