Missouri's Racial Profiling Law: Good Idea, Bad Implementation

Editorial written by James Baughn on Monday, March 12, 2001

from the good-idea-bad-law dept.

Last week, Attorney General Jay Nixon expressed outrage at the roughly 20% of police departments which failed to submit the proper paperwork by March 1st to comply with Missouri's racial profiling law. The vast majority of non-compliant police and sheriff departments are located in small towns or rural counties, which means that either:

1. This state is filled with local-yokel police departments which don't give a rat's ass about the law.

or 2. This state is filled with rural police departments that lack the funding and manpower to fulfill yet another unfunded mandate handed down from atop Mt. Olympus... er, the Capitol building in Jeff City.

Neither explanation is particularly comforting.

The sidebar at left contains a list of the police departments which failed to comply with the law, matched up with their 1990 population. With the exception of a few large county police departments (St. Louis, Greene, Cass, Pulaski), the others patrol small towns or counties located in sparsely populated areas.

This presents a thorny problem. The non-compliant law enforcement agencies probably don't have any extra money or manpower floating around to take care of another demand, especially one that is unrelated to fighting crime.

On the other hand, the law is the law, and it's downright disturbing that 20% of the law enforcement agencies around the state don't feel compelled to comply with it. The whole purpose of the racial profiling law is to provide a way of "policing the police", to ensure that officers don't create a climate where "driving while black" is a crime.

I sincerely hope that the non-compliant police departments are not simply dragging their feet because they think they are above the law, or because they can't be bothered, or because they want to stick it to those unrepresentative representatives in Jeff City.

I also sincerely hope that our state legislators didn't simply pass this unfunded mandate because they wanted to stick it to local police, or because they can't balance the state's budget, or because they just don't care.

In short, Missouri's racial profiling law is a good idea with a bad implementation. Holding police accountable for their actions is a good thing. But handing down unfunded mandates that put undue (and unnecessary) strain on subordinate agencies is a bad thing.