Profiling policy needed formalizing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

When something is in writing it takes on permanence and substance. A written record adds clarity and authority to ideals and policies.

Recently, the state of Alabama took a step forward by installing a formal and written policy against racial profiling by its state troopers.

We think this was a sound decision. It was a decision made by Public Safety Director Mike Coppage, who was appointed by Gov. Riley, and is the former police chief of Birmingham.

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It could be argued that no such policy was needed,

as state troopers have an informal verbal policy against biased-based enforcement. Indeed, the modern Alabama would appear to have no major problems. Last year, troopers issued 54,357 seat belt tickets. In a state that is one quarter black, 20 percent of those tickets went to blacks and 79 percent to whites.

But it never hurts to be official. Sometimes what we announce and have in writing means as much as the action. It shouldn’t be that way, but when our government officials are dealing with sensitive issues like race, the safe thing to do is to have a written policy.

The reason why the seat belt statistics are available is because black state legislators pushed for those statistics as a compromise to passing a mandatory seat belt law in 1999. They were concerned that the seat belt law would encourage frivolous searches of black motorists.

As it turns out, that hasn’t been the case. The statistics show no bias as it relates to stopping motorists for not wearing seat belts.

In light of those stats and the recent written policy against racial profiling, Alabama looks good on this issue.

“There is no place in any professional law enforcement organization for any type of bias-based enforcement,” Coppage said.

We agree and are glad that what was once covered verbally is now in writing.