Two Cities Tackle Racial Profiling in San Diego and San Jose, Calif., Police Agree to Track People They

By Paul Van Slambrouck, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

Two Cities Tackle Racial Profiling in San Diego and San Jose, Calif., Police Agree to Track People They


Paul Van Slambrouck, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


While police shootings of blacks have brought protests in New York and Riverside, Calif., civil rights groups are applauding a potential sea change in police attitudes toward race relations emerging more quietly in two other large Golden State cities: San Jose and San Diego.

In both communities, police chiefs have voluntarily agreed to begin collecting data to deal with charges that minorities are more subject to being questioned by police than whites.

They are among the first such moves in the nation to proactively deal with so-called "racial profiling," an allegation that law- enforcement agencies target individuals by race. The issue has roiled race relations across the country in recent years, despite the fact that many law-enforcement officials deny that they do it. Indeed, in New York, protests are intensifying over the fatal police shooting of an African immigrant, while in Riverside, an investigation into the death of an African-American woman was finished Friday. But the recently announced moves in San Diego and San Jose present a contrasting picture. Last week, San Jose police chief William Lansdowne was joined by representatives of the NAACP and the ACLU, who praised his announcement that officers would soon begin tracking ethnicity, sex, age, and reason for traffic stops. And a few weeks earlier, San Diego Police Department chief Jerry Sanders launched a similar data-collection effort. "This is a hugely significant change, and I hope they're not going to stand alone," says John Crew, director of the ACLU's police practices project. The law-enforcement establishment has generally opposed collecting this information. It has argued in part that paying special attention to these data will increase rather than decrease race consciousness among officers. Yet advocates hope the San Jose and San Diego actions will prod other departments to take the initiative. What civil rights advocates applaud in these efforts is that they have come voluntarily. Legal challenges have already forced police departments to assess the racial component of motorist stops in several states, including Maryland, New Jersey, and Florida, according to the ACLU. "This is a very different response" to the long-standing perception among minorities that they are treated unfairly, says Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington. "It's the beginning of an answer and a recognition that this is a complaint worth taking seriously." Indeed, Mr. Crew says police departments are typically put on the defensive by charges of racism and often respond in ways that encourage further suspicion. Being proactive can help change perceptions, he adds. THE new policy in San Jose, California's third-largest city, follows an incident earlier this month when an African-American youth pastor was stopped by police and, according to him, mistreated before being released without any citation. Following the incident, NAACP chapter president Aminah Jahi accused the San Jose police of profiling black- and brown-skinned drivers. While the San Jose Police Department has in the past denied the practice, its police chief took a new tack. "We've always denied we do profiling, but it doesn't answer the question," says Chief Lansdowne. …

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