In order to determine whether police officers in San Jose, Calif., are racially profiling people on the street, officers will now be required to document the race of every person they stop and question — not just those they arrest.
Though the San Jose Police Department’s new racial profiling policy was first announced in 2011 by the department’s new chief, Chris Moore, it was put on hold after critics called it “burdensome.” However, the SJPD has now announced that the new policy should be fully enacted by the end of 2013.
Under the new policy, officers will be required to record racial information for everyone they stop, even if they don’t arrest them. This information is already required when an officer pulls over someone in their car.
In 2011, Moore told a local ABC affiliate that he was approached by LaDoris Cordell, the department’s independent police auditor, about enacting the new policy. Cordell told ABC she worried about what happens to people of color after they are stopped by a San Jose police officer and wanted the department to enact a policy that “focused on why the officer pulled someone over — not what happened” after they were pulled over.
Cordell said she tried to convince the former police chief to enact the policy, but was unable to do so. But when Moore came along, he was open to it.
“I think this is a major accomplishment,” Cordell said in 2011. “This office has been pushing for this change for quite awhile … It is important to have rules for law enforcement that say, these are the things you must not do when engaged with the public.”
Richard Kanda is an activist with the Asian Law Alliance. In a 2011 interview with ABC, he described the relationship between the San Jose police and minorities as “strained,” but added that he thought the new policy may improve the relationship.
“I think it actually is a big deal, and the reason that is, is because it sends a message out to the community that if you think you are victim of racial profiling, that now there will be more investigation into the matter,” Kanda said.
Though it took a few years to enact, Moore said he thought the new policy would be beneficial in determining whether officers were using overly aggressive street policing and racial profiling tactics.
When Moore took over in 2011, the SJPD had investigated about 150 claims of racial profiling or other bias in the previous four years. Of those cases, no officers were ever found to be “in the wrong.”
“I took over at a time when there was a level of distrust in the community and the community had raised a number of concerns, particularly around around racial profiling and issues of disproportionate treatment of people of color,” Moore said.
Racial profiling by law enforcement: A national issue?
Racial bias by police officers is not an issue limited to one particular police department.
The New York Police Department has been under fire recently after its controversial stop-and-frisk program was found to target minorities, specifically young Black and Latino men, more than any other demographic. Among some 5 million people subjected to stop-and-frisk searches by the NYPD, about 84 percent were Blacks and Latinos.
As former NYPD officers stepped forward in recent months, many of them said the racial profiling by the NYPD was intentional. Testimony from New York state Sen. Eric Adams included a statement that NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly had used the program as a way to “instill fear” into young minorities.
“[Kelly] stated that he targeted and focused on that group because he wanted to instill fear in them, that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police,” Adams testified.
Adams reportedly learned this information in 2010 when he went to a meeting with Kelly regarding a bill that would have required NYPD officers to document the personal information — including race — of every individual they stop, even if they do not charge or arrest them.
In addition to Adams’ testimony, two current officers testified that the NYPD had a fixed quota system that required officers to make a certain number of stops, arrests and summonses. As Mint Press News previously reported, one of the officers secretly recorded a conversation with his supervisor in which he was told to target “male Blacks” ages “14 to 21.”
Reports from the NYPD indicate that 9 out of 10 New Yorkers stopped as part of the stop-and-frisk program were found to be innocent, and 8 out of 10 people stopped were Black or Latino. In response, many civil rights and human rights groups have called the program unconstitutional and have worked to end it.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, for example, published a report in 2012 on the human impact of the stop-and-frisk program. The authors interviewed several New York City residents and found the individuals had been deeply affected by “widespread civil and human rights abuses, including illegal profiling, improper arrests, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment humiliation and violence at the hands of police officers.”
Stop-and-frisk no more?
Though the NYPD has not incorporated a policy requiring racial documentation like the SJPD, the end may be near for the department’s stop-and-frisk program.
Last month the New York City Council passed legislation designed to hold officers accountable for racial profiling. Though New York had previously banned racial profiling, New York Civil Liberties Union Senior Organizer Candis Tolliver said “the law had no teeth.”
In contrast, the city’s new Community Safety Act establishes a strong and enforceable ban on profiling by NYPD officers and requires the commissioner of the Department of Investigation to review the department’s policies and procedures.
“This legislation requires police officers to base law-enforcement decisions on a person’s actions, not their skin color, religion or immigration status,” Tolliver said.
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman also praised the new law, calling its passage a “historic victory in the New York City police reform movement.”
“These reforms bring us closer to a New York City where police treat all New Yorkers – regardless of their race, sex, gender, religion or anything else – with courtesy, professionalism and respect,” Lieberman said. “We applaud Council Members Jumaane Williams, Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito and all members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus for their determined leadership in getting this landmark civil rights legislation passed.”
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