Wednesday, March 22, 2017
OFF THE WIRE
Last week the Idaho Senate rejected an anti-motorcycle profiling bill that had been unanimously passed by the Idaho House of Representatives.
The entire bill read: “No state or local law enforcement agent or law enforcement agency shall engage in motorcycle profiling. For purposes of this section, ‘motorcycle profiling’ means the arbitrary use of the fact that a person rides a motorcycle or wears motorcycle-related paraphernalia as a factor in deciding to stop and question, take enforcement action, arrest or search a person or vehicle under the constitution of the United States or the constitution of the state of Idaho.”
Motorcycle profiling is a new concept based mostly on anecdotal rather than empirical evidence. It is generally understood to describe situations in which police contrive reasons to stop, unnecessarily detain, interrogate, photograph and search motorcyclists, particularly members of motorcycle clubs. Police may stop a biker or a pack for what a police officer will later describe as a suspected traffic or safety violation. Motorcyclists are often not cited for the alleged violations but they are harassed and inconvenienced as either a blatant demonstration of police power or in an attempt to gather “gang intelligence.”Most members of motorcycle clubs have been victimized by the practice.
Washington passed an anti-motorcycle profiling in 2011 and Maryland enacted a similar law in 2016 but there has been widespread opposition to such laws by both civil rights groups and by police in other states. Police usually oppose such laws on the grounds that they do not profile bikers. Civil rights groups oppose the laws because states such as Minnesota, which defeated an anti-motorcycle profiling bill last year, do not have laws on the books that specifically forbid racial profiling.
A host of laws, beginning with the Constitution, already outlaw profiling. Most police forces – New York City is the most obvious example – profile certain groups as a matter of unwritten policy in defiance of the law. So the Idaho Senate debate followed a polished script.
Republican Senator Patti Anne Lodge said, “I’m concerned about the need for this legislation when there are no complaints filed in Idaho that I can find.”
Republican Senator Dan Foreman, a former cop, argued, “We don’t need this bill…. We already have laws on the books that tell police officers they cannot do what we’re saying they are doing. We cannot pull someone over for no reason other than the fact that they’re wearing a leather jacket or riding a Harley-Davidson. That’s against the law.”
Republican Senator Steve Blair argued that, “A person who is stopped for probable cause who is a motorcycle gang member wearing colors is going to take us to court…We already have a hard enough time…This piece of legislation will give those gang members plausible defense.”
And Senator Grant Burgoyne, a Democrat, opposed the anti-profiling law because it was “special rights legislation. Why just motorcyclists? The standard that’s set out in the legislation to protect motorcyclists should apply to everyone.”