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Bill could boost trust for public and police

The Winston-Salem Journal

A state bill filed recently to prohibit law enforcement officers from racially profiling people could help increase trust between the police and the public, despite the uphill battle it faces.

Democratic legislators filed House Bill 99, known as the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2017, in the N.C. House. On top of prohibiting racial profling, it would require law enforcement agencies to collect homicide statistics, including data about people killed by law enforcement officers. It also — and this may be its most important provision — requires officers to receive annual training concerning discriminatory profiling.

“The training components and homicide reporting components present a great opportunity for law enforcement and the community to continue growing their relationship toward more and more positive interactions,” State Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, said an email. “If we can work together on the data side that can guide our training, conversation and continued growth.”

Many provisions in the bill are already being carried out by the Winston-Salem Police Department, Chief Barry Rountree said, including the department’s policy on bias-free policing that prohibits officers from profiling people based on their race, ethnicity, origin, gender, gender identity and other characteristics.

“Based on the way the current version of this proposed bill is written, I don’t see any issues for the police department,” Rountree told the Journal.

Good for our local police force’s attention to this aspect of public service. Unfortunately, we doubt it’s a policy that every N.C. police department practices. And even with the department’s attention, there may be room for improvement.

State Rep. Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth, said some constituents say police racially profile them.

“Racial profiling is a well-documented and deeply troubling problem that erodes trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, particularly communities of color,” Sarah Gillooly, the policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, told the Journal.

“Right now, we are seeing too much violence in our communities,” state Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point, a Democrat and a primary sponsor of the bill, told the Journal. “But it is hard to fix these problems if there is distrust between the community and law enforcement, especially if people feel like they are being profiled or discriminated against.

“We need to work together to eliminate the biases that divide us so we can bring about safer situations for our next generation,” he told the Journal.

And that’s the meat of the matter.

In our current polarized climate, Republicans may be reluctant to pass a bill that originates with Democrats. But like it or not — and however we got here — there are segments of the public that distrust the police. That’s the situation and it requires attention.

The bill could help resolve matters. The GOP should give it a shot.

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