Legislature looking to beef up state's racial profiling law

2013-04-27T19:15:00Z 2014-08-26T11:06:05Z Legislature looking to beef up state's racial profiling lawBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Nebraska has collected information on racial profiling for 10 years.

But having local law enforcement report traffic stops to the Nebraska Crime Commission may not be enough to address the problems, senators said.

"Oversight over law enforcement is needed," said Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, who introduced a bill (LB99) to beef up the state's racial profiling law. "The more we can provide, the better."

The Legislature signaled its agreement earlier this month by advancing the bill to a second round of consideration. That second vote could come as early as Monday. 

"It is a significant problem, I know, in Omaha for a variety of reasons," Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford said during first-round debate.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers went further.

"I live in a city where the police are rogues," he said.

The Crime Commission's April report shows that African Americans in both Omaha and Lincoln are stopped in disproportionate numbers by police. 

They accounted for 8.7 percent of traffic stops in Lincoln, even though they make up 3.3 percent of the population. In Omaha, they were 21.9 percent of drivers stopped but represent 12.2 percent of the population.

The overall reporting by law enforcement shows that blacks (5.1 percent), Hispanics (5.8 percent) and Natives (4.7 percent) are searched more often than overall (3.5 percent) or whites (3.2 percent).

Even though the bill would require officers and certain attorneys to report to the commission any incidents of racial profiling they know about and requires data to be analyzed, some still question what to do with the information.

"The numbers do tell us it's a problem," Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said. "The question about what to do with the information is an open one.

"If somebody has a remedy on what to do to stop the practice, I would tell you the members of the Judiciary Committee would be anxious to hear it."

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus questioned why -- if the problem is not widespread -- more than a few law enforcement agencies should have to continue to do the paperwork the law requires.

"This is a paper chase," he said. "Ten years of it hasn't done much good."

Ashford said the problem of racial profiling was pervasive across the state, especially along the Interstate 80 corridor and near Native reservations. 

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery questioned why law enforcement agencies -- many of which deny racial profiling takes place in their departments -- are relied on to provide the remedy or enforcement of illegal profiling.

"I don't know how this would work," he said. "They circle the wagons and defend themselves."

The bill attempts to put some muscle into the existing law. It would detail what should be included in a racial profiling policy in law enforcement agencies and commit the policies to writing.

It allows for inquiry, study and recommendations by an advisory committee when the data raise questions about possible racial profiling.

It emphasizes the anti-profiling law covers detentions as well as traffic stops.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

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