Ohio lawmakers want law requiring police to record races during traffic stops | Cleveland News | Cleveland

click to enlarge Prosecutor Tom Hanculak, center, speaks to a person who suffered a traffic violation while a Bratenahl police officer oversees the proceedings October 11, 2022.  – Gus Chan for The Marshall Project

Gus Chan for The Marshall Project

Prosecutor Tom Hanculak, center, speaks to a person who suffered a traffic violation while a Bratenahl police officer oversees the proceedings October 11, 2022.

This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization reporting on the US criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletters and follow them TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

An Ohio lawmaker says she will introduce legislation requiring police departments to record race data when they make traffic stops, after a Marshall Project – Cleveland investigation into how the village of Bratenahl books mostly black drivers from neighboring Cleveland.

State Rep. Juanita Brent, a Cleveland Democrat, said the information is needed to determine whether law enforcement agencies are unfairly stopping more black and brown drivers compared to white drivers.

The Marshall Project – Cleveland investigation found that 60% or more of drivers summoned by the Bratenahl Police Department for traffic violations since 2020 were black.

Brent said she aims to introduce the proposed legislation in January 2023 when the Ohio General Assembly begins its next legislative session.

“The only way we can make systemic change (in policing) is through data,” Brent told The Marshall Project – Cleveland. “The data needs to support what people are saying in public.”

In Ohio, the decision to collect racial information is made at the local level.

In 2020, the New York University School of Law’s Police Project called state laws requiring officers to record racial data the “gold standard.” As of 2020, only 20 states required collection, according to the group.

Between January 1, 2020 and September 15, 2022, Bratenahl officers did not record racial information in nearly half of all cases. Following nationwide protests following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, The Ohio Collaborative — a panel of law enforcement experts and community leaders — established voluntary state standards for the use of force, body-worn cameras, and tracking of race data. The Bratenahl Police Department applied for accreditation with the Ohio Collaborative in the fall of 2020 and soon after began recording race data from drivers at traffic stops.

Kayla S. Griffin, president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, said Bratenahl’s ticketing practice demonstrates the need to collect race data, adding, “It’s a phenomenal idea. Other states have attacked these problems.”

Not everyone supports the collection of race data by law enforcement agencies.

Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said sheriffs oppose the idea because traffic stops are often controversial and officials asking for racial information could amplify situations.

Lawmakers could solve the problem by passing legislation that would require the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to require drivers to disclose their race when issuing or renewing a driver’s license, he said.

The association, Cornwell said, has asked the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to look into the requirement, but the idea has met with “lukewarm reception” over the past two years.

Jocelyn Rosnick, policy director at the ACLU of Ohio, said that while data collection is not a panacea for ending systemic racism in policing, it is certainly a tool to understand the extent to which black and brown communities are being targeted and disproportionately impacted through excessive policing.

“The burden should not be on the affected communities, advocates and the media to spend countless hours combing through piecemeal records,” Rosnick said. “Coherent, nationwide data collection on traffic stops would be a step in the right direction – although we know that much more would be needed, including strict monitoring of this data and meaningful reforms.”

About 3 out of 4 of Bratenahl’s 1,400 residents are white. Bratenahl is home to people like Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the owners of the Cleveland Browns football team, and Kevin Love, the basketball star of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is surrounded by Cleveland and shares a ZIP code with Glenville, one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods.

Almost all tickets issued by Bratenahl officers between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, 2022 went to out-of-town drivers, The Marshall Project – Cleveland found. About a third went to three majority-black Cleveland neighborhoods: Glenville, North Shore Collinwood, and Collinwood-Nottingham.

Over 60% of drivers on display in 2022 were from areas with higher poverty rates, lower household incomes, and a larger nonwhite population than most Ohio communities.

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell, who represents the Glenville neighborhood, said he plans to meet with Bratenahl Police Chief Charles LoBello soon to discuss complaints about traffic delays.

LoBello said he asked to meet Conwell “to get to know each other.”

Conwell also said he will be meeting with Cleveland City Court Administrative Judge Michelle Earley to find ways to educate Cleveland drivers on how to request that Bratenahl traffic cases be shifted to the Cleveland courts.

Ronnie Dunn, executive director of the Diversity Institute at Cleveland State University, said it is difficult to get statewide support for such collection efforts. He cited former State Representative Peter Lawson Jones’ attempts in the late 1990s to gain support for a statewide law to prevent racial profiling.

Traffic data should be collected and published to ensure transparency in police checks. Dunn, also an associate professor of urban studies and public affairs at the university, said Ohio lags behind many other states when it comes to laws requiring law enforcement to collect racial data.

“I find it really outrageous that today, in this era of big data, we wouldn’t collect data on all types of police interactions with the public…including traffic stops,” Dunn said.

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