Legislation to Target DWB in Florida
JACKSONVILLE — According to the Florida Times-Union, Frank Josenhans didn’t feel right about the way Volusia County deputies were conducting traffic stops in the late 1980s.
“I saw people stopped for no good reason,” said Josenhans, an eight-year deputy who was assigned to the county’s special drug unit.
Most were black or Hispanic, stopped without probable cause, and often searched for drugs, said Josenhans, who complained to the county sheriff and later to the FBI.
The paper reported that issues raised by Josenhans, who resigned under pressure in 1989, helped trigger state and federal investigations in Volusia County. In 1992, the sheriff disbanded the drug squad. In September Josenhans received a $175,000 settlement for a lawsuit in which he claimed he was demoted for complaining about police profiling.
Years later, reports of racial profiling continue to emerge around the state, say two Florida legislators who plan to introduce a bill requiring police to start tracking the race of motorists stopped to see whether they are disproportionately minorities.
At issue at a meeting last month of legislators and police officials was how to determine whether police, particularly special drug squads, use racial profiles to stop drivers without cause. They decided at the meeting to form a task force to examine how the process would work.
“No one at the table questioned whether or not racial profiling is a reality,” said Rep. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, who co-hosted the meeting with Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.
The key is to find out whether it’s widespread or just isolated incidents. “We talked about solutions,” Hill said. Law enforcement officials in Florida acknowledge a negative perception exists but many feel requiring police to collect data is unnecessary, time-consuming and potentially costly.
Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, said he doesn’t want to handcuff police, but he recognizes the need to examine concerns being raised by minorities.
“We need to introduce the idea and discuss it,” said Horne.
Compiling race data might be the best way to tell if there is a problem, Horne said.
If lawmakers pass a bill, the move would follow similar actions in other states, including North Carolina, which passed a law last year requiring police to begin tracking race data in January.
“We have nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” said Sgt. Jeff Winstead, spokesman for North Carolina Highway Patrol. If anything, Winstead said, it will help erase false perceptions that police stop a disproportionate number of minority drivers.
Laws passed by other states, and several federal lawsuits in Florida, have pushed the issue onto lawmakers’ radar screens, Hill said.
Among those cases is that of Aaron Campbell, a black man who filed a lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office after being stopped on the Florida Turnpike in 1997. Campbell, who was pulled over for an improper lane change, wound up being wrestled to the ground, hit with pepper spray and arrested. His stop was captured on police videotape.
Campbell, a major in the Miami-Dade Police Department, said he changed lanes to avoid a rapidly approaching car, which turned out to be a sheriff’s deputy. But the move was not illegal, Campbell said. He argued with the deputy, became angrier when the deputy refused to call in a supervisor and yanked his license from the officer’s clipboard.
The officer sprayed Campbell’s face, Campbell ran, and the officer arrested him. A judge found Campbell innocent of traffic and battery charges but guilty of resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.
Campbell, whose stop received national attention, doesn’t deny some wrongdoing after being pulled over. He said the stop never would have occurred if he wasn’t a black man driving a new Ford Explorer. “If I was a white major, that wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Most law enforcement officers don’t realize the severity of racial profiling, he said.
“They don’t understand the humiliation. They don’t understand how it hurts,” Campbell said.
A series of events helped catapult the issue into the spotlight in Florida over the last year. Campbell’s arrest in 1997 was added to cases being compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The case received attention because it occurred a few years after a report by the Florida Attorney General’s Office in 1992 showed that 70 percent of the motorists being stopped by the Volusia County drug squad were minorities, said Larry Spalding of the ACLU in Florida.
This summer, Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary shut down a special drug unit that had stopped Campbell. The Times-Unior reported that Beary did not return several phone calls to explain his decision, but the announcement followed an investigation by The Orlando Sentinel that found the squad was 6. times more likely to search black motorists than white motorists.
Even if profiling isn’t widespread, the reality is that it is a fear of many blacks and Hispanics who drive in Florida, said Brian Williams, a Florida State University professor who spoke at the meeting with Hill and Meek. Williams discovered claims by minorities while researching a book. He was surprised by how widespread the perception is.
“Minority citizens know it’s going on, but I don’t think the larger segment of society realizes it,” he said.
“It seems as though all eyes are on Florida as we sort through various race issues,” Rep. Hill said. “As the fourth-largest state in this country, we have an opportunity to set the standard.”
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Smart Justice
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Smart Justice
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.