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Record race? Yes, say some local minority members

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Frank Schultz
June 7, 2009
— When they leave their homes in the morning, they’re on guard.

They don’t let their guards down until they return home.

They’re black, and they know they live in a mostly white town. They know their skin makes them stand out. They believe there’s always a chance they’ll become targets because of how they look.

That’s why they favor a proposal that is part of the 2009-11 state budget bill that would require law enforcement to record the race of every person they stop.

Police are concerned about the unfunded mandate and the problem of determining a person’s race, but some local minority members said it could help with a nagging problem.

Shelton Evans, who is black, recalls an officer pulling him over one block from his workplace when he was head of the Janesville Boys & Girls Club.

The officer told him he fit the description of a suspect in a shooting the prior weekend.

The officer had Evans sit in the squad car. Another officer brought a photo to compare. The suspect weighed about 90 pounds and wore his hair in an Afro, Evans said.

Evans weighs more than twice that and shaves his head.

Evans said he had met the officer at a reception for the new police chief, but it wasn’t clear if the officer recognized him.

Evans said he can’t be sure he was stopped because he was black, but he couldn’t help but suspect it.

Evans also got a warning from a bicycle cop for having the music in his car playing too loudly, even though he didn’t think it was particularly loud. Now, if his windows are down, he keeps the music low.

Another black man, Marc Perry, is director of planning and development for Community Action. He was locking the door to the organization’s downtown Janesville office a couple years ago when a squad car stopped.

The officer asked what Perry was doing. Perry told him. The officer waited until Perry locked up, got in his car and drove away.

Perry said he’s not sure he was profiled.

“You want to give people the benefit of the doubt,” Perry said.

“I realize I am an African-American man working in downtown Janesville, and there are very few of us, and I am kind of a rare sight, coming out of an office in the evening.”

Perry said he had similar experiences growing up in Beloit and going to college in Milwaukee. That’s why he’s careful of how he acts in public.

“I am an African-American man working for a predominantly white organization, working in a predominantly white community, so I have no choice but to be (careful),” he said.

Perry believes he’d have no problem with 95 percent of police, “but you never know when you’re going to run into the person who has an issue. You never know when you’re going to run into a bigot.”

Billy Bob Grahn, a Rock County Board member and an Ojibwa, said he automatically checks himself the moment he leaves his home reservation up north: What’s his speed? Does he have a taillight out?

Grahn said if someone does the crime, they should be arrested. But he said Rock County Jail inmates are mostly minorities, well over their proportion in the county population.

Grahn believes recording race could be tedious and expensive, but he thinks it might be time to open what he calls a can of worms.

Evans appreciates that recording race wouldn’t be easy in every case because it’s often difficult to determine race just by looking at a person

So Evans said officers should simply ask.

Perry said he and others can tell story after story about their experiences with police, but someone will always offer a different explanation, saying that racism wasn’t the problem. That’s why he wants police to record the race of those they stop.

“It’s really hard to argue with facts, with statistics, with tangible data,” Perry said.

“It’s been going on for years. It continues to go on. It’s not isolated incidents,” Perry said. “… But I don’t know how often or how regularly because we haven’t documented it.”

In Walworth County, Enrique Barbosa frequently works with Hispanic or Latin inmates who feel they’ve been racially profiled by police.

Barbosa, a certified Spanish interpreter and owner of Elkhorn-based International Translators, said most of the Hispanics or Latinos getting stopped by Walworth County police feel profiled.

Barbosa said he has dealt with many cases of Hispanic or Latino drivers who complain about getting stopped frequently.

“They get stopped for no reason,” Barbosa said. “They get stopped because they look Latino.”

“At least, that’s what they think.”

Barbosa, who is of Mexican origin, said he has never been stopped or felt profiled, so he is not convinced it happens in Walworth County.

“I don’t know how much of that can be corroborated,” he said. “People will tell you all kinds of stories.”

Liliana Parodi, who works at Birds Eye Foods in Darien, said she doesn’t feel profiled by law enforcement.

Parodi, who has served as an employer representative for the Migrant Labor Council, said she’s heard stories about profiling but doesn’t personally knowing anybody who has been in that situation.

“I’m going to start asking around, but I personally don’t know anybody,” she said. “Not me or any friends of mine.”


The Gazette asked area law enforcement leaders for their opinions about a proposal that would law enforcement to record the race of every person they stop:

Albany—The police department doesn’t have the staff to accomplish the mandate, Chief Robert Levitt said.

“I would hope that it would be a fully funded mandate, because otherwise I think it’s going to be quite a strain on our already strained budget,” he said.

The Albany department covers about 20 hours a day with three full-time and five part-time officers.

The department collects race data when officers write tickets or give written warnings, but it’s not recorded during other stops. The department would have to create a system to compile the data, he said.

“We pretty much know everyone we stop,” he said. “Just because a person of a different race comes through our town, we don’t stop them. It’s not the way we do business.

“I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to maybe some larger communities, and unfortunately we’re all going to have to pay for it if it’s going to be an unfunded (mandate).”

Brodhead—Police Chief Thomas Moczynski said if the state dictates the policy, “that’s just part of the business. We collect that information.”

Most of the data that would need to be collected already is captured when police do a field interview or write a ticket, he said.

“The extra work might be collating that data,” he said.

His department and most others use a records management system that could compile the data, he said.

“We capture the data anyway, so if the state is asking for that, the capturing of the data isn’t that much more different,” he said. “How they want it and in what form remains to be seen how tough (it would be).”

Delavan—Police Chief Tim O’Neill said he was not yet familiar with the proposal, but said there’s no need for an additional set of data.

He said officers already are required to record the gender, race and date of birth for the people they pull over, arrest or have warrants for.

East Troy—Police Chief Alan Boyes is concerned about gathering the data and worries about how state officials would handle the information.

Boyes said he hopes the state would consider populations with a heavier set of minority residents when drawing conclusions based on the number of arrests or citations.

In the East Troy area, for example, police could pull over more Asian drivers than in other communities because the village has a substantial Asian representation, Boyes said.

“That has to be taken into consideration,” he said.

Edgerton—Police Chief Thomas Klubertanz declined to comment.

Elkhorn—Police Chief Joel Christensen said he’s worried about the extra work the mandate would create.

“If it’s going to be another requirement of us to somehow provide it, obviously that takes some time and some resources that are now being used for something else,” Christensen said.

Janesville—Police Chief Dave Moore said in a previous interview his agency would be willing to collect traffic-stop data.

The police department already tracks arrest data, including race, to prevent racial profiling, he said.

Police must stop drivers for behavior-based violations, Moore said, and the stops must be supported with facts.

The police department has policies against racial stereotyping, he said, and race- or gender-based stops are not tolerated.

Officers must have reasonable suspicion to make traffic stops, he said. They also must articulate a reasonable suspicion when asking for consent to search vehicles.

Milton—Police Chief Jerry Schuetz isn’t convinced a budget proposal is the best way to study racial profiling in Wisconsin. He would prefer the Legislature discuss the issue during regular sessions and get more input from local communities.

But if the initiative is passed, Schuetz said the state should advise officers how to determine race or ethnic background of drivers. Wisconsin drivers licenses do not display that information, leaving officers to ask an uncomfortable question during an already stressful situation.

“Each individual traffic stop is a unique event,” Schuetz said. “Many people will be very understanding as to why we’re asking the question. Some people may be agitated. It will just depend on every individual we stop and why we stop them.”

The proposal would create more expense for Milton and more work for the department’s support staff, Schuetz said. Creating a database to store the new data and logging that information would fall to two support staffers. Milton does not employ or contract with any data analysts.

Orfordville—Police Chief Dave Wickstrum called the proposal absurd and ridiculous.

“It’s the typical state trying to get involved with things they don’t need to be involved in. Obviously, they must think it’s a serious problem if they put it in a bill,” he said. “Just another waste of time and effort.”

The proposal would decrease the number of stops Wickstrum is able to make when he patrols around the schools on foot in the morning and afternoon. He said he stops about 25 cars to tell them to slow down but doesn’t gather any data on them. If he had to, he’d probably only be able to stop about five cars, he said.

“If I take time to keep track, I’ll stop less cars,” he said.

After 37 years in law enforcement, Wickstrum said he doesn’t understand how the policy would work and why it’s needed. He said he wonders if he’d have to find more minority people in Orfordville to stop because the numbers would show he doesn’t stop enough.

Rock County Sheriff’s Office—Sheriff Bob Spoden said in a previous interview his agency would be willing to collect traffic-stop data for the state.

The sheriff’s office currently tracks the race of people arrested to prevent racial profiling, Spoden said.

Deputies have a record of arresting offenders, he said, and they don’t target racial groups.

The sheriff’s office tracks incidents involving the use of force, Spoden said.

It also makes its arrest reports available to an outside agency to check for racial profiling, he said.

Walworth County Sheriff’s Office—Sheriff David Graves said it could become a personnel-intensive, “statistical nightmare” for some departments to provide the additional set of data on top of what they already gather.

“The biggest problem would be for the smallest departments who don’t have the staff,” Graves said.

Graves said Walworth County has an anti-racial profiling policy, and he has not seen problems throughout the county.

Whitewater—Police Chief James Coan is concerned about how officers would obtain such information, how it would be reported and how it would be used.

Wisconsin driver’s licenses don’t list ethnicity or race, leaving officers to ask for it.

“That certainly would be an awkward question to pose to someone,” Coan said. “If someone was asked about their ethnic background, they might regard that in and of itself as racial profiling.”

He said, for example, members of the Hispanic population might think questions about ethnicity or race are a means of checking their immigration status.

“We would have to do it in a way so as not to offend people, but if it’s mandated, we’d have to come up with a way to get that data,” Coan said.

Coan believes the requirement likely would create extra work for the police department.

“Depending on how they want that data captured and in what format they want it reported, it could be a burden from a records keeping standpoint,” he said.


The Joint Finance Committee last week broadened a proposal that would require all law enforcement agencies to report racial data for traffic stops. Instead of just in the 11 most populated counties, including Dane and Rock, as Gov. Jim Doyle originally proposed, the committee said the reporting requirement should be imposed on all state and local police agencies statewide.

Under the plan, police would be required to collect traffic-stop data and submit it to the state’s Office of Justice Assistance.

Supporters say the requirement would help determine how prevalent racial profiling, or police targeting of minorities for suspicion, is in Wisconsin.

Statewide traffic citations already list racial data, though no data is currently collected for written or verbal warnings. The proposal would expand data collection to all traffic stops, regardless of whether a citation is issued.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature must approve the requirement, and Doyle has to sign it, before it becomes law.

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