McHenry Sheriff: No racial profiling happening
A lack of training -- and not racial profiling -- was responsible for skewed numbers involving the ethnicity of motorists ticketed in McHenry County from 2007 through 2009, according to an internal review by the sheriff's department.
"The data indicates on its own that no racial profiling was going on at the department," McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren said Wednesday.
The study was prompted by a federal lawsuit filed by a deputy who claimed he was fired for blowing the whistle on the department's racial profiling of Hispanics.
The investigation, which was launched in November 2010, entailed officials reviewing by hand each traffic citation issued from 2007 through 2009 and 51 of 107 deputies were interviewed.
Some findings and remedies are:
• Four deputies routinely "mismarked" the ethnicity of drivers with Hispanic surnames as being white. They will not be disciplined and three are still on the force, while the fourth left for another law enforcement position before the investigation was completed.
• Sixteen deputies failed to consistently complete data on race, which is required by the state.
• All law enforcement officers in McHenry County -- both county and municipal -- must fill out ethnicity data on an automated ticketing system in the squad car, or they can't give a ticket to a motorist.
• The department will increase internal training and perform an ongoing review of each patrol shift's tickets to ensure they're all complete and accurate.
Former sheriff's deputy Zane Seipler, who brought the federal lawsuit, was fired in November 2008 for two cases in which he cited passengers -- rather than drivers -- for petty traffic offenses. An arbitrator decided Seipler should get his job back and the sheriff's department appealed.
Seipler Wednesday called the investigation "nonsense."
"They can say whatever they want. It's just an out-and-out lie and we're going to prove it in court," Seipler said. "They all know how it was supposed to be done. It's not a training issue. It was those guys violating the law."
Nygren said the situation is a chance for the department to identify its shortcomings and move forward.
"I don't see it as an indictment. I see it as a revelation that helps us do better at what we do," he said. "Filling out a form incompletely or incorrectly is not racial profiling."
Nygren said that officers can't ask a motorist's ethnicity during a traffic stop, but they are required to fill in data about ethnicity on the traffic report. These qualitative judgments -- or assumptions -- put officers in a difficult position that could be remedied if the state required motorists to self-declare their ethnicity and have it be spelled out on their driver's license.
"We need to come up with a better way with being accurate with how we send this information to the state and have it be meaningful," Nygren said. "It's fraught with problems."