May 6, 2022 - News

Hurdle emerges in Des Moines police stop tracking reform push

Illustration of a pair of blinking eyes with police badges for irises.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

An independent review's recommendation to require Des Moines police to document the race and ethnicity of all people they stop is raising logistical and accuracy questions.

Why it matters: Multiple civil rights groups consider the information critical in efforts to eliminate racial disparities in policing.

  • But City Council members recently raised concerns about implementation since Iowa doesn't require that driver's license applicants self-identify.

State of play: Des Moines police currently only collect data on individuals they stop if it results in a citation or arrest. Even then, officers don't always document race and ethnicity if the information isn't available.

  • If Des Moines were to adopt the recommendations of the city-funded report released last week, police would be required to collect identity characteristics about individuals in all traffic and pedestrian stops, and report that data.
  • Council members, however, discussed potential hurdles last week considering Iowans don't have to answer race and ethnicity questions on state driver's license applications.

Of note: A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate earlier this year would require that individuals disclose their race and ethnicity in state driver's license applications.

  • The governor's office, Des Moines, Iowa City and the NAACP are registered in support of the bill, which is not anticipated to advance this year.

What they're saying: In lieu of self-identification via driver's license data, Eric Schnurer, a report consultant, told the council last week that officer perception is one way the information is collected in other states.

Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek told Axios that officer perceptions could be imprecise, making assessments or future policy decisions less effective.

  • The department would prefer to use a person's self-identification via state standards set by the Legislature, he said.

Meanwhile, Councilperson Indira Sheumaker said during a council work session last week that officer perception could still provide valuable information about things like policing trends.

What's next: Review and implementation of some of the recommendations are ongoing, city manager Scott Sanders told Axios.

  • Updates will go before the City Council in coming months, he said.

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