The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

January 11, 2010

Panel seeks to stop racial profiling of motorists

CHARLESTON — A legislative panel moved Monday to compel law enforcement officers at all levels of government in West Virginia to undergo training as a means of avoiding racial profiling in traffic stops.

A second measure sent out of the panel, also with unanimous consent, would shore up the rights of motorists when pulled over by police and asked to yield to a vehicle search.

Seth DiStefano, a field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union in West Virginia, afterward hailed both proposals as necessary for individual rights.

A third bill shipped out would create the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, named after the late Huntington attorney.

Based on a study released a year ago, DiStefano said he feels racial profiling definitely is a problem in the state.

“If you’re a minority driver in West Virginia, you’re one and a half times more likely to be pulled over, and two and a half times more likely to have your vehicle searched, even though you’re less likely to be carrying any illegal contraband,” he said.

The ACLU leader said he envisions a “central level of accountability” through the Governor’s Subcommittee on Law Enforcement Training to prevent racial profiling.

“They will have the ability to mandate and create standards and reach out to organizations that actually provide very good options when it comes to racial profiling training, a lot of which doesn’t cost anything to law enforcement agencies,” DiStefano said.

For instance, he said, the U.S. Department of Justice provides “a very good” training seminar.

DiStefano said the second bill would provide motorists more protections from searches of their vehicles, which couldn’t be performed without probable cause.

If oral consent is given, police must have a video and audio record of this.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, wondered who would finance any technical upgrades some police agencies might incur if the measure passes.

Text Only
Local News