Ken Garten: On the path to a better society
Law enforcement officers in Missouri are required by state law to log, record and report to their department detailed information regarding each and every traffic stop they make each day.
This year, the information required to be recorded and submitted has been expanded to a full-page, 15-part questionnaire that includes matters such as the age, gender, and race of the party stopped; the reason for the stop; and the outcome – including search, arrest, citation or warning – and a list of other details.
Law enforcement agencies are then required to aggregate all of this data into an annual report to the Missouri attorney general’s office, which is required to compile and summarize this data, and submit a full report each year to the Governor’s office.
This statute, passed in 2000, requires agencies to adopt policies that analyze and prohibit racial profiling and discrimination in traffic stops, generally, and to identify officers who may display a pattern of racial discrimination in traffic stops and related law enforcement activity and provide counseling and training for those whose data indicate race based discrimination.
The purpose of this legislation is quite noble, the monitoring and prevention of race discrimination in law enforcement.
Its effectiveness and practicality in the achievement of these goals may be less clear.
Undoubtedly, the small minority of rogue law enforcement officers who may give all cops a bad name have learned how to avoid having themselves identified as such by this system of self-reporting.
And I am sure that many a law enforcement officer has grumbled at the addition of yet more bureaucratic paperwork that they must do, while also trying to do one of the most dangerous, challenging, and important jobs in our society.
It has certainly not prevented the firestorm of lawlessness, discord and violence on both sides of the fence that pervades the current state of unrest locally and nationally between law enforcement and a wide swath of its constituents, based on a single, horrific incident caught on video.
But the purpose of the legislation is noble.
And while it is horrible to witness the widespread victimization of citizens who may want nothing more than to peaceably participate in lawful gatherings to voice their concerns and complaints, to local business and property owners who have had much of they have worked for for much of their lives destroyed, and to law enforcement officers who get caught up in violent interactions while trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability, this too will pass, I truly believe.
And, as a nation, and a state, and a community, we must continue to strive to maintain a system of government and law enforcement that is as just, and as fair, as can possibly be, even knowing that perfection is never going to be the precise outcome, but the goal we must seek.
We cannot forget that we have come a long, long way in our great nation these last one hundred years.
We have seen unprecedented advances in the cause of civil rights for all – voting rights, access to public accommodations, accountability of law enforcement, and policies and procedures that protect against unlawful discrimination.
Perfection?No. But we must continue in our quest to be a fair and free nation.
The dialog must always be ongoing.
And we must accept that there will always be work to be done, and pain to be endured.
But this quest is far better, with all its difficulties that may ensue, than to revert to the past, where discord and differences in our society were the object of widespread, crushing oppression.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.