In Landmark Racial Profiling Settlement, Arizona Law Enforcement Agents Agree to Major Reforms

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
February 2, 2005 12:00 am

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For First Time, Highway Patrol Will Collect Racial Data on All Traffic Stops and Vehicle Searches Statewide

PHOENIX-In response to a class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and local attorneys, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has agreed to make sweeping reforms to prevent racial profiling by patrol officers along the state's highways and streets.

"This is an historic agreement that will benefit both the public and law enforcement here in Arizona," said Flagstaff attorney Lee Phillips, who is lead counsel in the case. "After years of reports that Black and Hispanic motorists have been illegally targeted by patrol officers, the Department of Public Safety has finally agreed to adopt concrete measures that will help identify and eliminate racial profiling on our highways."

The new measures come in response to a 2001 class action lawsuit brought on behalf of 11 motorists by Phillips and the ACLU, which charged that law enforcement officials engaged in a continuing pattern and practice of race-based traffic stops, detentions and searches. The class includes all non-white motorists stopped by Department of Public Safety officials anywhere in Arizona.

As part of the settlement, the Department of Public Safety agreed to collect and review statistical data relating to traffic stops and vehicle searches statewide. The data will be analyzed by external consultants on an annual basis to determine why, how and where motorists are stopped, detained and searched. The ACLU said that the information will help identify possible racial profiling by patrol officers.

"Collecting statistical data on who is being stopped by the police and for what reasons is a crucial part of identifying patterns of illegal racial profiling by law enforcement," said Daniel Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona volunteer attorney and co-counsel on the case. "Patrol officers should now think twice before stopping African-American or Hispanic motorists based on nothing more than stereotypes."

Under the settlement, Governor Janet Napolitano also agreed to create a nine-member citizens' advisory board to review the Department of Public Safety's practices and policies relating to racial profiling and traffic stop data and to make recommendations based on that review. Appointments to the board will be made by the governor, with input from the ACLU of Arizona, and will include members of the governor's African-American and Latino advisory committees.

Other measures called for in the settlement include:

  • Amending agency policies to prohibit officers from pulling over motorists on the basis of race or skin color;
  • Training officers to comply with anti-racial profiling policies;
  • Working toward the goal of having vehicle-based video systems in all department vehicles throughout the state to tape all traffic stops, detentions and searches; and,
  • Requiring patrol officers to use a bi-lingual written consent form whenever a search is requested during a traffic stop.

The settlement is contingent upon review and approval by a district judge in Phoenix. That process may take up to 60 to 90 days.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs applauded the Department of Public Safety and the governor for their efforts in reaching this agreement.

"We hope that this landmark agreement will serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies in Arizona and throughout the country," said Reginald Shuford, a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU, who also served as co-counsel in the case.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at: /node/35363.

For more information on racial profiling, go to: /racialjustice/racialprofiling.

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