Attention, West Virginia: Guesswork not police work

May 19, 2006

Every time you think you have heard it all, something comes along to make you scratch your head in wonderment once again. The following is not a joke or a prank.

To address the question of whether West Virginia motorists are being stopped because of their race, on Jan. 1 police will begin collecting data on the race of every motorist they stop.

How will they make sure of a person's race? They won't ask. Instead, they'll guess.

Yes, you read it correctly - they'll guess. So say the rules posted by the West Virginia Secretary of State's office last week.

Other information that must be listed on a form separate from any citation includes:

The type of violation for which the vehicle was stopped.

The action taken - a citation, warning or no action at all.

The time and day of each stop.

How long the stop took and the patrol area and county where the stop took place.


Danny Moore of Raleigh County, who is president of the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said that most of that information is already on the traffic citation, so filling out a second form would only waste everyone's time.

The real waste of time, however, is mandating that officers collect information, but not requiring them to do the best job possible.

Let's suppose that there is an officer out there who stops motorists for "driving while black." Couldn't he cover himself by saying he had guessed wrong about the driver's race? Even if the driver were obviously Hispanic or African-American, who is going to check an officer's assertion that they were white?

What makes more sense is to tell the motorist who is stopped that the state is attempting to deal with the issue of racial profiling and that the office of the West Virginia Secretary of State is requiring officers to collect this information.

Then give the motorist a copy of the form, so he or she can say that everything was correctly recorded. We would bet that those whose race is not recorded correctly will complain and that the data the state gets will be a lot better than a collection of guesses.

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