Lawmakers examine racial profiling in Mississippi

By Jon Kalahar - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - When law enforcement officers target an individual simply because of one's skin color, it's called racial profiling. But how big is the problem in Mississippi? And what can be done to stop it?

"No doubt in my mind there are lots of incidents of racial profiling," said ACLU executive director, Nsombi Lambright.

The ACLU is hoping to pass legislation to require agencies to keep racial data on traffic stops and arrests, so they can gauge just how serious the problem is.

"Because if you're going after the wrong people, that means the guilty party is still out there somewhere," said Lambright.

Others disagree. Representative John Moore believes lawmakers don't need to act too hastily or they could hinder how officers do their jobs.

"We don't need to do anything that will restrict our good law enforcers from doing their jobs. Now they need to have every tool available to them to stop crime," said Moore.

Ridgeland Police Chief Jimmy Houston says one of the most useful tools they have is the in car camera.

"They first six complaints I got after we got the cameras and after we got audio recorders, it showed our officers were right five of the six times. The sixth officer didn't turn his on for whatever reason, and he was disciplined for that," said Houston.

But committee chairman Willie Bailey says the line between racial profiling and overaggressive officers can blur at times. Bailey says it's up to police chiefs and sheriffs to set the standard within each department.

"We could have a thousand laws on the books. Unless we have police chiefs or police officers willing to police themselves, those laws are going to do very little," said Bailey.

The American Civil Liberties Union says in 2008 their organization received more than 100 complaints of racial profiling by Mississippi law enforcement officers. The largest police department in the state, Jackson Police, had only one complaint last year.