The issue of racial profiling is one of the more disturbing and controversial issues to confront law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve in recent memory. While virtually all the evidence to date is anecdotal, there exists to some degree the perception that police officers enforce traffic laws based on the ethnicity of the driver. This is a troubling development and one which causes concern to anyone charged with the enforcement of state's laws. Simply stated, local and county law enforcement agencies cannot perform their responsibilities without the trust and support of all segments of the communities they serve.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) and its members have for the past year worked to establish procedures and programs to addresses the issue without undermining the legitimate traffic law enforcement activities which are critically important to the well being of the citizens we serve. The FPCA therefore recommends that agencies move forward to adopt the following as expeditiously as possible:
- Policy Recommendations: Every agency should issue a policy which clearly states that race based enforcement is prohibited. To this end, the FPCA will promulgate a model policy on the subject to facilitate its use by members. The policy will state with specificity that disciplinary action up to and including termination will be taken.
- Internal Affairs Investigations: We recommend that all complaints related to this issue be promptly investigated whether or not the agencies threshold for conducting an IA investigation has been met. Agencies may also have such complaints investigated by administrators in the chain of command with all findings reported to the chief.
- Community Outreach: It is incumbent on all agencies to develop and present community outreach programs which illustrate the importance of traffic law enforcement to the communities themselves in terms of lives saved and injuries prevented.
- In-Service Training: Every Florida officer should be trained to conduct all traffic stops in a professional manner with emphasis placed on the point that racial/ethnic profiling as a basis for vehicle stops, is inappropriate and specifically prohibited. This training statewide has already begun with the University of North Florida's Institute of Police Technology and Management conducting training programs at five locations statewide during October-November 2000. To date, 236 officers have been trained in the specially designed program titled " Safe and Legal Traffic Stops" (SALTS). It is estimated that a minimum of 1,000 Florida officers will have been trained during the next nine months. The SALTS program was designed by this nationally respected law enforcement training school to address this issue in Michigan and is currently being taught statewide to Michigan police officers. Train the trainer courses are also being developed which will enable this information to be disseminated throughout the state in a more timely manner.
- Recruit Training: We recommend that selected portions of this SALTS program be incorporated in the Florida recruit curriculum so that ultimately every police officer receives training in the topic of racial profiling.
- In-Car Video: We recommend that whenever practical that video cameras be installed in patrol vehicles. While cost may be prohibitive for some agencies at the present time we recommend that we move toward such installations as soon as possible. Video can directly establish an officer's actions as well as those of the driver. Such valuable direct recording of events can have an officer safety benefit, assist in prosecution of drunk drivers as well as establish that our officers are behaving properly; and when this is not the case, provide evidentiary material to deal with the issue. Conversely, it offers a defense to the officer and the agency when a false accusation is made.
The foregoing are all steps law enforcement administrators can take to address the issue. They are doubtlessly others and we encourage our members to be proactive in meeting this challenge.
It is instructive to point out that to the best of our knowledge no Florida law enforcement agency or training center has ever taught that racial or ethnic profiling is an acceptable law enforcement practice. To the contrary, training programs with which we are familiar teach that it is inappropriate, unprofessional and will lead to unsuccessful outcomes. Nevertheless, individual officers may make enforcement decisions based on such factors and the foregoing recommendations are made to address this. We do believe however, that the vast majority of Florida police officers make vehicle stops based on the actions of the vehicle they observe and not on the race or ethnicity of the driver. Should a driver feel that he/she has been the victim of racial profiling then the driver should be encouraged to file a complaint with the law enforcement agency and such complaints should be throughly investigated.
While we believe this issue is serious and the foregoing illustrates our willingness to address it in any and all reasonable manners, we are opposed to the establishment of any statewide mandatory data collection program. We fear (and our collective experiences persuade us) that traffic enforcement will fall dramatically if we add completion of another piece of mandatory paperwork to the officer's tasks. This directly exposes our citizens to becoming victims of traffic accidents and other criminal activity) and may ultimately harm those most at risk such as children not properly restrained, etc. DEA has estimated that 40% of all illegal firearms are seized as a result of a traffic stop. A reduction in the amount of illegal firearms seized is obviously not desired by any of our citizens. It should be noted that while we oppose statewide mandatory data collection we do not oppose voluntary local data collection. Local conditions and issues should be the controlling factor.
Should mandatory data collection ever be implemented it should be preceded by revamping the current Florida diver license so that race is indicated on the face of the license. To implement such a system with the current driver license would require the officer to ask or guess the driver's race. The former may be offensive to the driver and the latter can lead to inaccuracies which will negate the value of data analysis.
In summary, FPCA recognizes the seriousness with which this issue is taken both nationally and in Florida. We have demonstrated our concern with the issue and encourage our members to maintain this concern. We caution however, that the establishment of a mandatory data collection process will work to the detriment of effective and legal law enforcement and will ultimately do a disservice to those in the minority community; those such a measure would ostensibly help. Those who advocate this as a definitive cure-all to the issue are encouraged to consider the unintended consequences of such a process.