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South Dakota racial profiling bill defeated

PIERRE, S.D. - Some authorities assure that racial profiling in South
Dakota only occurs by some people's accounts and has been reduced or
eliminated, so a five-time attempt to collect data has met with defeat in
the legislature.

In fact, most bills that would have some impact on Indian country in the
state have gone down in defeat, with the exception of frybread - now the
state bread.

At vehicle stops statewide, data such as whether the occupants are American
Indian or any other ethnic or cultural group, the reason for the stop and
the stop's outcome will not be collected because some people believe it
would be too expensive. Others assert that racial profiling does not occur,
and that anecdotal stories of traffic stops occurred 10 or 15 years ago,
not recently.

"There are certain ways people are being treated by different measures.
This bill will ask the authorities to collect information," said Tom Van
Norman, Democratic state representative to the state House and attorney for
the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

"I have brought this bill four times before: it is the same bill. I do
unfortunately, from last session to this one, [hear] complaints that people
are treated poorly because they are Native American," Van Norman said.

The bill, H.R. 1204, was defeated by deferring it to the day after the last
day of the South Dakota legislature's 40-day session. The bill would have
required law enforcement officers to collect data that would indicate the
race or ethnicity as perceived by the law enforcement officer.

Data collected would include how many drivers were stopped for routine
traffic violations, whether there was a citation or warning issued and the
reason for the stop. In addition, the bill would require information about
any search that took place, if the driver or any passengers were searched,
and if any citation, oral or written warning was issued as a result of the
stop.

"This data is necessary to restore trust between the state and the Native
community," said Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union of the Dakotas.

"You have heard the Native American community say in overwhelming number
they get stopped for minor things. We have heard police departments
speaking through their representatives - it's a 'she said - he said' thing.
It's not a matter of trusting police. If trusting police means not trusting
the Native community, then everyone here is lying," Ring said.

The Legislature's State-Tribal Relations Committee has heard hours of
testimony about racial profiling as perceived by the American Indian
community.

Col. Dan Mosteller of the South Dakota Highway Patrol said that some of the
American Indians' anecdotal stories are 10 or 20 years old. "We have made
some great gains that have started at the administrative level and moved
down through the ranks."

Mosteller said that introducing legislation such as H.R. 1204 prompts
discussion by both sides and has a positive effect and progress is a
result. "It gives law enforcement a good opportunity to meet with the
people who brought forth these bills," he said.

Since the 1997 U.S. Civil Rights Commission information session in South
Dakota, American Indians have told stories about traffic stops based
strictly on race as perceived by the officer - whether by sight of the
driver or passengers, or by license plate number that indicates county and
reservation residency.

The defeat of the data collection bill this session was no surprise to Van
Norman. He said it has always been defeated along party lines. "We need to
address this problem until it is taken seriously. There is no better idea
coming from the other side of the political aisle," Van Norman said.

Opponents of the bill claim it would take one-half hour to fill out, it
would be too expensive, and that an officer would be asked to make the call
on a person's race or ethnicity without asking the person.

"I don't look at those arguments [as] persuasive," Van Norman said. "The
first thing we hear on the [police radio] is 'there is a Native American
male.'

"This bill asks the office to treat people fairly. Let's take some
information about who is being pulled over. People have the concern that
they are going to get pulled over and that they will be targeted."

Van Norman said when he was growing up he had short hair and had a
non-Indian father. He said he was never asked where he was going or what he
was doing.

"When I did have a dangling object on my rear-view mirror, I was stopped
just for that. They looked at the [license] plate, it's a reservation
plate," Van Norman said.

The only bill that would help reduce racial profiling was the "dangling
object" bill that passed the 2004 legislature. That bill reduced the
violation from a primary to a secondary, and prevents law enforcement
officers from stopping vehicles for that reason.

All law enforcement patrol vehicles have video cameras that record the
activities of a traffic stop. This video record is advantageous to state
authorities for drunken driving violations when those cases go to court,
said Attorney General Larry Long.

"Cameras do provide video and audio, but they can't tell the story of why
the stop occurred," said Mary Anne Bear Heals, Rosebud and director of
First Voices, an American Indian advocacy group.

"The concerns voiced [in the] last few years are still out there; racial
profiling is still out there. Stops are based on race and not actions,"
Bear Heals said.

Dick Tieszen, lobbyist for the South Dakota Sheriff's Department and the
South Dakota Chiefs of Police, said bias-based policing is condemned by
both organizations he represents.

"I understand that [American Indians'] perception is that police officers
are stopping them for their race. We disagree how it can be stopped. This
bill does not address it," Tieszen said.

"I think we deserve to know what is going on. I think in this day and age
of homeland security, officers should be asking a person's ethnicity," said
Stephen Emery, attorney and chief of staff for the chairman of the Rosebud
Sioux Tribe.

"It might take a minute or two, but certainly not more than that. To gather
empirical data, I believe, is an issue of the greatest importance."