Students, CBC Map Strategy to Combat Racial Profiling
College students are joining an effort by the Congressional Black Caucus to combat racial profiling. The United States Student Association is putting its support behind legislation from Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., that would promote police accountability. Conyers’ Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act was introduced in the current Congress, and he is likely to propose it again in 2001.
USSA, which represents college students in Washington, recently placed the legislation on its list of top priorities for the next Congress, says Corye Barbour, the organization’s director of government relations. The issue, she says, is that law enforcement agencies are “putting people in prison who we could put in college.”
While the bill places primary emphasis on local police departments, racial profiling is an issue for college and university police as well, she says. On many campuses, particularly large institutions, police officers are responsible for traffic stops and crime investigations.
Conyers says his bill is designed to combat recent high-profile incidents involving police in Los Angeles and New York, among other locations. “The catalogue of high-profile incidents of police misconduct grows with each passing day,” the lawmaker says.
The bill is not a “knee-jerk response” to an incident, he adds. Instead, it would encourage police departments to adopt performance-based standards that include investigation of suspicious incidents and increased management and training for officers and their supervisors.
“We have been enthusiastic about supporting programs designed to get officers on the street,” he says. “We must be just as willing to support programs designed to train and manage police after they get there.”
The issue may resonate on some college campuses, particularly large institutions or those in urban settings. At least one major university recently announced efforts to address the racial profiling issue.
At Michigan State University, public safety leaders identified the issue as one they want to focus on in the years ahead. The university convened a Strategy Team for Police-Minority Trust that outlined a 12-point plan for increased communication and other steps to address potential profiling issues.
Discussions began not as a result of a particular problem but during informal discussions at the annual leadership retreat of university police leaders. That led to the university police adopting a policy in which they “do not support and will not practice or tolerate racial profiling in our operations.”
The plan calls for Michigan State’s criminal justice school to routinely evaluate information about traffic stops on campus. MSU police also will install video cameras in all marked cars beginning in January. To build trust, the plan calls for a partnership of three Michigan State police officers and three minority students who will spend time together during the spring semester. As part of the partnership, students may ride along with police on patrols, while police may attend classes with students (see related article, pg.20).
“Our officers will continue to take positive steps toward gaining trust with our community and guarding against racial profiling as a basis for stopping individuals,” says Bruce Benson, the university’s police chief.
For more information about Conyers’ bill, contact the lawmaker’s office at (202) 225-5126. Information about Michigan State University’s plan is available by calling (517) 355-2223 or visiting the Web site <http://www.police.msu.edu>.
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