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Traffic-stop data law affects different-sized police departments differently

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Kevin Hoffman
Ted Sullivan
January 4, 2011

Law enforcement officials in Rock and Walworth counties said larger agencies aren't impacted under new requirements to collect traffic-stop data to see whether racial profiling is a problem.


Smaller agencies, however, have less manpower to track the information.


All law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are now required to report data about each traffic stop to study whether drivers are being stopped because of their race.


Officers must collect the age, zip code, gender and ethnicity of drivers and passengers. They also must collect data such as the reason for the stop, the outcome and if a search was done.


The data will be sent to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance through Badger Traffic and Criminal Software, also known as Badger Tracs, or through a website.


The justice assistance office will analyze the information for racial stereotyping and make it available to the public by July 1, 2012.


Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden and Janesville Deputy Police Chief John Olsen said the mandate wouldn't require more labor or much more time because their agencies collect data electronically with Badger Tracs.


Spoden and Olson said much of the information, including race, was already being recorded.


"At this point, we're not anticipating it being a major issue out in the field," Spoden said.


Both agencies also have policies stating that traffic stops must be supported with facts, reasonable suspicion and driver behavior, they said.


"We're not disproportionately pulling over African Americans or Latinos," Spoden said. "Our numbers are all over the place."


Janesville police also aren't worried about racial profiling, Olsen said.


"I don't see it exposing any issues or problems," he said.


Williams Bay Police Department has been using the Badger Tracs system for about four years, Police Chief Robert Pruessing said. The system already records data on race and other identifying factors, but the new law forces officers to refile the information on another form before sending it to the state.


Pruessing said filling out the sheet added about 10 to 15 minutes to each traffic stop. Once officers are accustomed to it, he expects the time to decrease.


"I'm not a fan of it," he said. "I don't think you'll find hardly anyone in law enforcement that is. In our particular case, we had three contacts where they filled out forms so far this year, so it's not like they're doing a ton of them.


"We're in better shape probably than some. I think the whole design of the system was ill-conceived."


Williams Bay has seven full-time officers, and Badger Tracs is equipped in all three of the department's squad cars. That's made the transition easier than it would be in smaller departments, where officers must record the information by hand before sending it through an online system.


Smaller agencies still writing tickets on paper might not have the staff to gather the information, Spoden said. Other sheriffs also are worried about the data becoming a political issue.


Some sheriffs wish racial stereotyping was handled locally, rather than under state supervision, Spoden said.


In Rock County, though, agencies are adjusting.


"I haven't heard any complaints about it," Olsen said. "It's one more piece of paperwork you have to generate out on the street, but other than that, I don't see any complaints coming from it."


The state won't release its findings for another 18 months, but Pruessing expects it will be difficult to interpret the data. What's unclear is whether it will weigh how often officers forget to gather the information or regions of the state that are more diverse than others.


"As far as the intent, I have no objections," he said. "Just the method by which they're doing it."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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