The dog ate 'em
8,000 DPS files vanish as a racial profiling case arises? Sure!

Dec. 13, 2002

C'mon, how can 8,000 law enforcement documents just disappear without a trace?

It's preposterous. Yet that seems to be the case.

Under a court order to produce records of traffic stops along Interstate 40, the Department of Public Safety has searched its facilities and come up with a goose egg. Nothing. Zilch.

"We pretty much looked everywhere we thought they could be," laments Jeffrey Raynor, DPS commander for criminal investigations. He says the records could have been destroyed or lost.

This doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the record-keeping ability of the DPS.

Further, these missing documents fuel suspicions that DPS officers may have been overly aggressive in stopping African-Americans traveling through Coconino County.

These weren't just any records. Lee Brooke Phillips, a Flagstaff lawyer, hoped to use them to get charges dismissed against his six African-American clients on grounds of racial profiling by the DPS.

DPS policy states that "race or ethnicity is not a predictor of criminal activity, and will not be a factor for the development of policies or cause for stopping, detaining or searching vehicles and motorists traversing Arizona roadways."

Starting Jan. 1, officers making traffic stops will be required to fill out a separate form and input the information into a database. That will enable the DPS to track, by officer or geographic region, who is stopped for what reason and ethnicity, among other factors.

This new policy is an outgrowth of Attorney General Janet Napolitano's efforts to establish a model for addressing racial profiling.

That's the good news.

But it doesn't do much to uncover 8,000 documents out of a total of 25,000 that can't be found. The DPS says it wasn't required to maintain the records, but this is the second time it has been unable to produce traffic-stop documents ordered by a court.

The lost records also mean that a study by Northern Arizona University to compare data of drivers violating the law along I-40 with racial-stop data from DPS cannot be finished.

Incomplete data showed that the numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics who were stopped were two to three times higher than those who had been observed violating the law by NAU's research team.

With a new policy in place next year, this kind of snafu should never happen again.

Racial profiling has no place in Arizona. Data on police stops ought to be kept as a matter of course so we know if law enforcement steps over the line.

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