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Few Utahns opt to divulge race

Despite clamor over profiling, few check box on license form

Despite repeated cries from minority groups over the past few years to study racial profiling, more than 90 percent of Utahns refuse to disclose their race when filling out the state's driver's license form.

According to numbers from the State Driver's License Division, only 8.5 percent of Utah's 177,676 licensed drivers checked the box on their driver's license form to indicate their ethnicity.

Utah Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers said he's not sure what to make of the measly response, considering so many minorities say police in Utah practice racial profiling.

"I find it odd, especially with all the publicity and the clamoring for this," Flowers said. "I find it odd that we're getting such a lousy response on this."

Listing race information on the form is optional, which might explain some of the reluctance. But of the 8.5 percent of Utahns who indicated their race on the driver's license form, 85 percent were white. The next closest group to list their ethnicity were Hispanics, with 3 percent.

During this year's legislative session the Utah Senate voted down a bill, HB199, that would have set up a mechanism to record drivers' race in order to document if racial profiling is occurring. Although lawmakers declined to require people to divulge such information, Flowers decided to leave the ethnicity question on the driver's license form as an optional question.

"We're at least going to get the mechanism in place in case down the road it's mandated by law to do that," Flowers said.

Minority leaders are not surprised nor discouraged by the lack of responses.

"At this point in time I think people don't fill that information out because, one, it's optional and, two, it's a trust issue," HB199 sponsor Duane Bourdeaux said. "Those are things that we need to continue to work on and mend the fences."

"It's no different than what we had to do with the census," agreed Leticia Medina, director of the State Office of Hispanic Affairs. "We had to go to schools, to churches, to educate people how this works. . . . This message has to come from leaders that they trust."

Flowers is meeting this week with minority groups to discuss whether a code indicating a driver's race should be listed on their license in a continuing effort to gauge for ways to monitor racial profiling. Coming to a consensus on whether or not people should even have to list their race has been difficult, though.

"We're getting mixed messages, frankly, from minority leadership about this," Flowers said.

At least one minority group came out against the racial profiling bill this year.

Bourdeaux said the bill he'll sponsor next year will not require a driver's race to be listed on the license. The ethnicity of each driver will simply be entered into a database which would be accessed by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to study if racial profiling really is a problem.

Bourdeaux said he trusts that information won't be passed on to other organizations. HB199 was voted down in the Senate amid concerns that listing race on drivers' licenses and identification cards would reveal historically private information about people as they applied for housing or credit checks.

"I have trust in the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice that it will stay right there in that office and that's as far as it will go," Bourdeaux said. "By all means if I thought it was going to go anywhere else I would be the first to hold that agency responsible."