ACLU of Washington Bills Aim To Curb "Driving While Black or Brown"

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
January 24, 2000 12:00 am

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OLYMPIA, WA–The American Civil Liberties of Washington said today that it is drafting House and Senate bills requiring police agencies to gather statistics on the use of racial profiling on the state’s streets and highways.

The measures require that police agencies statewide collect and report on the number of individuals stopped for routine traffic enforcement; the race or ethnicity, approximate age, and gender of individuals stopped; and whether a search was instituted as a result of the stop.

While praising state and local agencies that have already begun voluntarily collecting such statistics, the ACLU said a law requiring data collection would help determine the extent of the problem.

“When decisions about enforcing traffic laws appear to be based on race, public confidence in law enforcement is eroded. These bills are a necessary first step in determining the scope of racial profiling in Washington,” said Jerry Sheehan, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Washington.

The bills tackle concerns about the use of racial profiling in law enforcement, a form of discrimination also known as “Driving While Black” or “Driving While Brown.” Racial profiling is the practice by some police of making decisions depending in part upon the race or ethnicity of an individual. It undermines the premise of equal treatment under the law for all people upon which our system of justice is based.

Senate Bill 6683 is sponsored by Senator Rosa Franklin. House Bill 2902 is sponsored by Representative Velma Veloria. An additional 12 Democrat and Republican legislators are cosponsors.

In September, 1999, Chief Annette Sandberg announced that the Washington State Patrol would begin collecting data on the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped by state troopers during traffic patrols. In addition, Chief Norm Stamper is preparing a similar operating procedure for the Seattle Police Department.

The issue of racial profiling in traffic stops has gained increasing attention nationally over the past year. Results of a Gallup Poll released in December, 1999 found strong public disapproval of the practice. The poll found that 59% of the American public believes that racial profiling is widespread, and 81% disapprove of its use by police. Last June, President Clinton issued an executive order for federal law enforcement agencies to collect data on the race, gender, and ethnicity of people they stop to question.

The ACLU has launched a nationwide campaign to combat racial profiling. Last year, North Carolina became the first state to adopt legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to collect racial data on police stops. A number of police departments in major cities have voluntarily begun to collect such statistics, including San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, and Houston. In Oregon, leaders of two dozen Portland-area police agencies have endorsed a resolution against racial profiling.

While anecdotal evidence of racially motivated traffic stops is plentiful, relatively few formal studies have been done. One of these, undertaken by the ACLU in Maryland, revealed an alarming disparity in motorist stops and searches. Although minorities were only 22% of all drivers on the highway studied, they were over 70% of those detained and searched.

In-depth information about the problem of racial profiling can be found in the 1999 ACLU study, “Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways,” which is available online at To report incidents of racial profiling, call the ACLU’s toll-free hotline at 1-877-6-PROFILE.

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