Civil-rights groups push for legislation that would ban racial profiling in Iowa

A Des Moines traffic stop video has prompted civil-rights groups to call for a ban on racial profiling in Iowa.

Elianna Novitch, Politics Reporter

After the video of Montray Little and Jared Clinton’s traffic stop by two Des Moines police officers went viral, civil-rights groups drew attention to Iowa’s lack of legislation to address racial profiling in the state.

On July 15, Des Moines police Officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann pulled over the two black men who have since filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the Police Department and the city of Des Moines alleging racial profiling.

Iowa civil-rights organizations are pushing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and state lawmakers to pass legislation that would ban racial profiling in response. According to the NAACP, Iowa is one of 20 states that does not have a law banning racial profiling.

“[Racial profiling] does exist, and I think that’s what the Des Moines video shows, that it does exist, and it is not something that we can shy away from,” said Betty Andrews, the president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.

The Daily Iowan previously reported that Thies had made 253 arrests in 2017, and 50 percent of those arrested were black.

Activist groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement have worked to get profiling legislation passed since 2014, Andrews said.

In the 2018 session, the legislation gained some traction in the Senate after it passed the Judiciary Committee but failed to advance beyond that. The bill sought to implement required prevention training for officers, the collection of data on officer stops and compliance, and the creation of a community policing advisory board.

Reynolds’ press secretary Brenna Smith said the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP suggested establishing a racial-profiling study committee earlier this summer at the governor’s regular meeting with the group, and its request for a working group is under consideration by the Governor’s Office.

Some lawmakers have expressed interest in taking up profiling legislation in the upcoming session.

“Minorities feel that law enforcement is profiling them, and I believe they are. I know they are trying very hard not to; there’s been a lot more education over the last three or four years for law enforcement,” said Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant. “I think if we would have something written in law that explains exactly what their responsibilities are, I believe it would help. It just doesn’t seem like we’re quite getting there with education at this point.”

In recent years, law-enforcement agencies around the nation have implemented implicit-bias training. Sgt. Paul Parizek, the public-information officer for the Des Moines police, said the unit has such training in place that its officers undergo.

“The effort, and the energy, and the funding need to be put into training to prevent the issues, and that’s what we focus on,” Parizek said.

Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, said he would be interested in having conversations about implementing legislation to ban racial profiling, but the law would require a statewide conversation.

“We, obviously, the Department of Public Safety, have a big responsibility, but individual policing practices at the municipal level — meaning cities and then at the county levels — also need to be a part of that conversation,” Nunn said.

While there is interest in passing such legislation, Andrews said she believes the passing of such legislation will hinge on whether there is a change in party that controls the Iowa Legislature.

“There are a number of people who get it and understand that gravity of the situation, but I do think there are others who choose to stick their head in the sand or maybe this issue is not a priority to them,” Andrews said. “This is something that really does affect lives, and it perpetuates negative circumstances for our state, and we can be so much better in Iowa.”