How Far Will Madison Police Go to Reduce Image of Racial Profiling?

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Madison: Minorities make up 20% of Madison's population, and yet they receive almost 30% of the traffic tickets issued by Madison Police.

Madison Police are adamant they don't racially profile, but they admit the image of profiling does exist.

The Traffic Stop Data Analysis Project is a 5 year study by Madison Police. It shows that while blacks make up only 6% of Madison's population, they receive 19% of all traffic citations.

"The fact is there is a disparity," says Chief Noble Wray. "The question is: Are those disparities based upon a bias?"

Madison Police union president Scott Favor says it doesn't happen here. "We don't believe our officers engage in racial profiling."

"Perceived or real it's a problem and we have to address it," says Wray.

Chief Wray uses a curve to show all the factors that contribute to the racial disparity. Conscious and unconscious bias by the officer are only two factors.

Perhaps more important is the category of economic citations, things like expired registration, broken taillights, and loud mufflers. They're known as economic citations because often the violator doesn't have the money to get the problem fixed.

The Traffic Stop Data shows that minorities receive only 20% of the hazardous citations for things like speeding, running a red light or driving recklessly. But minorities make–up nearly 50% of the non–hazardous or economic citations. Chief Wray says non-hazardous can still be dangerous. "I wouldn't go as far as to say they are minor. They're important to make sure you're following up with those."

That brings us to Officer Rudy Natera. Officer Natera is a 13 year veteran who specializes in traffic enforcement. He patrols part of the East Washington Avenue area, and by some estimates, writes out 3,000 citations a year. Approximately half of those citations go to minorities, many for non–hazardous violations.

NBC 15 has learned that Officer Natera was recently placed under written orders to focus more on hazardous citations, and much less on economic citations. The order came in the form of a work rule.

Favor explains what a work rule is. "It's a sign that the department would expect some correction or some improvement in a certain area of your work performance."

The Madison Police Department would not make Officer Natera available for a formal interview, but in statements obtained by NBC 15, Officer Natera says he feels the work rule was designed to limit his contact with minority motorists in an attempt to lower the racial disparity and reduce the image of racial profiling.

Because work rules are a personnel issue, Chief Wray could not comment on Officer Natera's situation, but he responded to a hypothetical question by saying hazardous citations like speeding are more of a community priority.

"If I've got an officer spending more time doing things that are not necessarily a priority for the community and the department and what we're hearing from community members I would want someone to explain hey, look that's fine, you can still do that, it's a violation of law, but maybe you should spend your time focusing on things that are a priority for the community," says Chief Wray.

Officer Natera says in the end this work rule has changed the way he enforces the law, stating that he now has to stop and think before pulling someone over for a violation. He says even if the work rule is lifted he won't be able to go back to the way he was before.