Race and ethnicity statistics
Hall County Sheriff’s Office traffic stops and other law enforcement contacts by race/ethnicity for 2009
White: 75 percent
Black: 7 percent
Hispanic: 15 percent
Other: 1 percent
U.S. Census Bureau demographic estimates for Hall County for 2008 (latest year available)
White: 64 percent
Black: 7 percent
Hispanic: 26 percent
Sources: Hall County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Census Bureau
Officials with Hall County’s two biggest law enforcement agencies say they already have measures in place to prevent the racial profiling that a recently introduced state Senate bill addresses.
The proposed legislation introduced this week by State Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, would require all law enforcement officers in Georgia to record the race, ethnicity and age of anyone they pull over in a traffic stop or other contact. Under the legislation, that data would be published annually by the state Attorney General’s office with a procedure to investigate complaints.
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia officials said 25 other states already have anti-racial profiling laws.
"Georgia should join the ranks of other states,
including several in the Southeast, that are collecting stop and search data," said Azadeh Shahshahani with the ACLU.
A similar bill authored by state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, passed the House by a wide margin in 2004 but stalled in the Senate.
Brooks said he had his doubts whether the measure would pass this year, but said "we have to keep the issue alive."
"We have to keep raising the issue until we reach a consensus that would allow us to pass a bill that would become law," Brooks said.
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic, who took office in 2001, said he instituted similar policies when profiling legislation was first introduced and failed to pass the state legislature during his first term.
"There were some good suggestions in there, and we said there’s no reason we can’t do this," Cronic said. "So out of an effort to make sure we do things the way we were supposed to be doing them, we have a policy against bias-based profiling."
"Bias-based profiling" is the term most law enforcement agencies use in place of "racial profiling." The National Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, which both the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department are accredited by, has standards on bias-based profiling that member agencies are expected to follow.
Cronic said his office trains each deputy on bias-based profiling and keeps records of the race and ethnicity of each person the sheriff’s office comes in contact with, whether it’s a traffic stop, arrest or responding to a call for service. Cronic said those numbers fall in line with the demographic makeup of Hall County.
"It’s a great management tool to ensure our people are doing things the way they are supposed to be done," Cronic said. "If I saw some disparity in areas, it would serve as a red flag."
Gainesville Interim Police Chief Jane Nichols said the department has had a bias-based profiling policy in place since 2004 that requires documenting the race and ethnicity of anyone in a citation, arrest or incident report as well as officer training in the area.
Gainesville Police conduct an annual administrative review to ensure bias-based profiling isn’t happening, she said. And the numbers are "absolutely proportionate to our demographics," she added.
Nichols said she opposes the new legislation because she believes it would be too cumbersome to record the race, age and ethnicity of every person an officer comes in contact with, and questioned how it would be effective without checks and balances on the recording officers.
"How do you verify the data?" she said. "It’s still kind of the honor system, which is what we go by now."
Nichols said last year Gainesville police internal affairs investigated four complaints of bias-based profiling and found each to be unfounded through a review of the evidence and interviews with complainants.
Multiple complaints against an individual officer would trigger a full personnel review, she said.
The measures proposed in the bill are "really kind of redundant for agencies that already have policies in place and take disciplinary actions when members are not in compliance," Nichols said.
Cronic said accusations of profiling are among the "easiest allegations to make."
"So it’s important to us that we have good hard statistical data to support what we do and why we do it," Cronic said. "Our credibility’s so important. If we don’t have the public’s trust, we don’t have anything."