Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Lawmakers ponder law to address profiling

By Travis James Tritten
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - In an attempt to prevent racial profiling, Ohio lawmakers are considering a law requiring officers to record the race of drivers during traffic stops.

        The Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony Tuesday in favor of a bill lawmakers call a first step in determining whether police treat minority drivers differently than white drivers.

        Support for such legislation is growing nationally, and the House bill resembles a Cincinnati City Council proposal unveiled Monday. Kentucky has already passed a law requiring that such data be collected.

        Police would be required to record the race of each person in the vehicle during a traffic stop. Those records could be used later to determine the percentage of minorities pulled over by an officer or a department.

        Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who testified on behalf of the bill, said blacks and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be stopped by police, and the legislation would monitor and eliminate the unconstitutional process of racial profiling.

        “It is the only way the management can root out a minority of enforcers who are practicing” racial profiling, Mr. Blackwell said.

        Despite that support, Ann Womer-Benjamin, R-Aurora, chairwoman of the committee, said she will not commit to further hearings on the bill until there is more support from other members.

        Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, who oversees the division of public safety, has already begun programs similar to what is described in the bill, Rep. Womer-Benjamin said, which might be one reason committee members have not voiced strong support.

        Critics of the bill also worry that recording officers' traffic stops could be too expensive for communities without state funding, and might take too much time to perform during a routine stop.


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