Public Safety

Iowa's justice reform task force urged to collect more data from law enforcement

'Data leads to transparency. Transparency leads to trust.'

FILE PHOTO: A body camera worn by a Coralville police officer on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (File/The Gazette)
FILE PHOTO: A body camera worn by a Coralville police officer on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (File/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A state task force on criminal justice reform was encouraged to collect more data from law enforcement interactions with the public as a step toward increasing transparency and trust.

“Data leads to transparency. Transparency leads to trust,” Arthur Rizer, a consultant on criminal justice with R Street, told Gov. Kim Reynolds’ FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform Monday. “No one doubts there is a trust gap as it related to policing.”

Rizer, who had 20 years of law enforcement experience before joining the public policy research organization, was invited to address the Gov. Kim Reynolds’ FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform to provide a national perspective on what’s being done to address racial profiling and other issues, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg said.

He praised Iowa’s data gathering, but said it’s not enough.

“Data collection alone is a passive response to biased policing with no direct impact beyond telling us what we should know,” he said. “The data needs to be collected and used.”

Collecting the data, such as race, ethnicity and gender will have an effect by itself, Rizer said.

“Most officers want to serve and go home safe,” he said. “However, just collecting the data can be really eye-opening. Many officers have some type of bias and when they are aware of it, many can self-correct.”

Iowa State Patrol troopers agreed with Rizer that having that data on driver’s licenses would be preferable to requiring officers to ask about race and ethnicity. Traffic stops are uncomfortable for law enforcement as well as drivers, and

Traffic stops are stressful and can become tenser when an officer has to ask a driver for their race or ethnicity, Captain Make Stine of the Iowa State Patrol said. Typically, the first question a driver asks is, “Why is that important?”

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So some law enforcement officers rely on the physical appearances because “if you ask, they are offended,” added Major Randy Kunert of the State Patrol. However, if they guess wrong, “it can become an issue in court if they say they were falsely identified.”

The simplest solution, Kunert and Stine agreed, would be to have that information on driver’s licenses.

That’s possible, said Melissa Gillet of the Iowa Department of Transportation. The agency could change its administrative rules to include race and ethnicity on driver’s licenses.

However, she recommended that the additional requirements be added in legislation “to give the DOT clear authority to collect the data ... to make clear there is a reason to ask those questions.”

The downside is that because most Iowa drivers are on an eight-year renewal cycle, adding demographic information will take several years, Gillet said.

Comments (319) 398-8375; James.Lynch@TheGazette.com

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