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Montana targets race profiling

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HELENA, Mont. - The Montana Legislature is considering a bill requiring law
enforcement agencies across the state to develop procedures for handling
racial profiling complaints and "cultural sensitivity" standards for
officer training.

Senate Bill 282 is sponsored by Sen. Frank Smith, D-Poplar, who also serves
on the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board. The bill would put meat on the
bones of a racial profiling measure also carried by Smith and approved in
the 2003 Legislature.

Racial profiling is currently defined in state law as the "detention,
official restraint, or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on
the basis of the racial or ethnic status of the individual."

"It's a simple bill, and it closes some gaps from last session," Smith told
the Senate Judiciary Committee at a Jan. 28 hearing.

S. 282 says municipal, county-and state police departments and agencies
must document all officer stops and ensure that the stops conform to
internal policies and procedures.

If a racial profiling complaint were filed, a department employee would be
designated to review details of the allegation, as well as to inform the
complainant that a review is underway. After the review is completed, the
complainant would be notified in writing about the findings.

In addition, the bill calls for the departments and agencies to require
certified training for all peace officers in "cultural sensitivity and
bias-based policing." Penalties for failing to adopt racial-profiling
policies and complaint procedures would result in fines up to $500.

Smith, a former police officer, said he was surprised to learn that some
communities in the state have failed to follow the policy mandates spelled
out in the 2003 law.

Assistant Montana Attorney General Pam Bucy, who testified in support of
the bill, said she doesn't believe there's a lot of profiling taking place
in Montana. But, she added, "the perception is there."

"We wanted to be proactive and address what we see as an important issue,"
she said of the Justice Department's continued endorsement of state laws
aimed at curbing potential police abuse.

Bucy said two hours of training on profiling issues and four hours of
"cultural awareness" were added to the curriculum at the Montana Law
Enforcement Academy in 2003. At this point, however, S. 282 doesn't specify
how much training must be completed.

Jim Kembel of the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police also expressed
displeasure that some jurisdictions haven't yet adopted profiling policies.
The offending departments were not disclosed at the hearing, but Bucy
assured lawmakers that the matter was being looked into.

No opponents of the bill surfaced at the hearing, but Sen. Jeff Mangan,
D-Great Falls, said he was concerned that the proposed $500 fine might not
be high enough to deter offenders. That prompted a discussion on the merits
of a state agency fining local and county governments and whether there was
any precedent for imposing such penalties.

"If they're discriminating, I hope they pay through the nose" in a civil
judgment, said Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor. But a fine levied on one law
enforcement agency from another, he added, "seems to be a step too far."

Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, who said he was "not opposed to the basic intent
of this bill," nonetheless expressed concern that police might be hampered
in stopping terrorism suspects if profiling allegations might ensue. Bucy,
however, said she didn't see that as a problem.

The committee also heard another measure sponsored by Smith. His S. 264
would outlaw all police arrest or ticket quotas, which he said could lead
to citizens being falsely accused of crimes or otherwise targeted by
overzealous officers concerned about keeping their jobs or getting
promotions.

The sensitivity of the issue was evidenced by the fact that no proponents
or opponents testified on the proposal.

Smith said he introduced the measure after being approached by three
Montana Highway Patrol officers who were concerned about the practice.

After the hearing, MHP officials denied having a quota system for tickets
but did say the potential number of citations in a given year is something
that's discussed in advance. The committee did not take immediate action on
either of Smith's bills.