Expert: Iowa should share more data on traffic stops to fight police bias
Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and U.S. Army veteran who directs the criminal justice and civil liberties program for Washington, D.C.-based free-market think tank R Street Institute, said more transparency is needed. His comments came as Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg leads a state task force looking for ways to fight bias in policing, and the Black Lives Matter movement demands a range of changes.
The Iowa Legislature introduced an anti-profiling bill, Senate Study Bill 1038, last session, but it didn’t advance past the subcommittee. The Legislature passed a separate bill to ban choke holds and require training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the legislation into law.
Rizer said data is important to battling bias, and it must be reported publicly. “When the public remains in the dark about departmental policies and their impacts, they really are unable to hold departments accountable,” Rizer told a videoconference meeting of the Iowa’s FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform. “Then what happens is you have rage that fills the gap and that is what we’ve seen since the murder of George Floyd.”
Floyd was a Black man who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest in May.
“We can’t fix what we don’t know,” Rizer said. “Data leads to transparency and transparency leads to trust. Nobody would doubt that across this country there is a trust gap as it relates to policing in America and that is something that we could improve.”
“Data collection alone is just a passive response to bias, and it really doesn’t have any direct impact beyond telling us what we should know. The demographic data must be collected, and then used,” Rizer added.
Rizer said Iowa’s criminal justice bill in 2010 helped improve reporting on crimes “but it lacks any public data on the initial stops. That’s something that I think can be improved.” Some 21 states are requiring officers to collect extensive data on traffic stops.
Iowa could weave much of the demographic information needed to watch for patterns of bias into the state’s existing system, Rizer said. “Then you could base policy on the data that you have.”