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Changes for South Dakota law enforcement

PIERRE, S.D. - For the past decade, American Indians have argued that law enforcement officials in the state stop them more frequently for traffic violations than any other group of people.

A recent study by the University of South Dakota upheld that claim, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights provided stacks of anecdotes collected from a hearing in 1999 that also corroborate the claims.

The state, reacting to some recommendations has taken a step that may end or at least slow down racial profiling.

A $500,000 grant will purchase 250 video cameras to be placed in law enforcement vehicles. Local communities, counties and state patrol cars will all have the devices.

Along with the video cameras comes a "suggested policy on how to use the cameras, and an anti-racial profiling policy that all departments are urged to adopt," said State Attorney General Larry Long.

What the cameras will provide is a record of treatment by an officer who stops a vehicle. Should anyone have a complaint about the officer's behavior or treatment of a person, the tape can be reviewed. All tapes will be saved for 20 days, Long said.

The tape can also work against a person who is stopped. Should they be questioned for DWI activity the tape will provide additional evidence of the driver's behavior, which will add credibility to the officer's word.

The cameras were made possible by a grant from the National Highway and Safety Commission. The purpose of the grant is to track drunk driving and the only requirement for the cameras is to keep a record of drunk driving offenses, Long said.

But the main goal for the state is to reduce the frequency of racial profiling.

The racial profiling policy is patterned after one established by the Highway Patrol. The policy asserts that people should only be stopped if there is probable cause to do so. A person should not be detained, searched or even stopped if probable cause is not determined.

The policy states that race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, age or gender are not in themselves a factor to cause traffic stops and therefore the state will not condone the disparate treatment of people based on those conditions.

The audio/visual equipment will be used in all stops, pursuits and accidents. When a tape is shut off proper notification must be included on the tape to indicate a reason.

The officers can also turn on the video equipment to record a person's driving performance.

Some counties and cities already have cameras which were given to the agency, and officers claim they sometimes do not work properly. Some patrol cars on the Pine Ridge Reservation were given cameras and Long said the Public Safety Department has requested more.

The participation in the audio/visual placement is voluntary by all law enforcement agencies, but Long said he believes most every agency in the state will participate.

Each officer will have 20 tapes and each day the tape will be removed from the vehicle and stored for the recommended time period.