Quick fix for racial profiling

Racial profiling is a plague upon our society. For officers of the law to stop motorists for no reason other than the color of their skin is an unfortunate practice that must end. No reason exists for the police to be terrorizing minorities. Of course, it is difficult to find a solution that draws a balance between the wishes of the community and the need for police to be able to do their jobs. A new policy to be implemented by the St. Paul Police Department might possibly walk that fine line. However, these efforts must only be the beginning of a constructive dialogue in order to eliminate racial profiling.

In a deal made between the police department and the NAACP, which is expected to be approved by the St. Paul City Council this week, police officers in that city will now be expected to inform citizens they have a constitutional right not to be searched. Additionally, officers will also be forced to hand out business cards with their contact information. If nothing else, these actions will work to reduce the intimidation factor police officers can have. Most people would undoubtedly allow an officer to search their car, simply because the officer seems like an authority figure and the person does not want to give the impression that there is something to hide.

However, this agreement should not be construed as the perfect solution; indeed, it is not necessarily innovative. In St. Paul, officers could always be identified by their badge numbers, the name embroidered on the officer’s jacket, or the identifying number on police cars. Handing out business cards with the officer’s name and contact information only provides another way to identify him or her. The idea that an individual can refuse a search is also nothing new. With no probable cause, the only justification a police officer can have in conducting a search is if the person under suspicion allows it. The law already provides for the fact that a person can refuse a search. This is something that every citizen should already know when dealing with the police; it is not something officers should need to feed to hapless citizens.

It is hard to know if these new policies will truly garner the results the city and the NAACP are looking for. Although these could be a first step in reducing racial profiling, it is only a beginning. The city must not be complacent and assume that business cards and the reading of more rights will solve everything. Improving officer education and training should be another priority of the city and the police. As pointed out by Nathaniel Khaliq, president of the St. Paul NAACP, this agreement does establish trust and can act as a “vehicle for long term dialogue.” Neither side can become complacent and hope these steps will be enough to create a police force that is truly colorblind.