San Francisco Is 34th CA City to Collect Racial Data on Police Traffic Stops

September 16, 1999 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO — In response to the growing controversy over racial profiling, San Francisco police officers will soon begin keeping track of the race of motorists they pull over, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

According to the paper, the Police Commission ordered police officials yesterday to start collecting racial data on all traffic stops.

The record-keeping program, which could start as soon as this January, would require officers to fill out a four-question form after each traffic stop. Officers would note a driver’s race, the basis for the stop, whether the vehicle was searched and whether the driver was cited or arrested.

The American Civil Liberties Union, several minority groups and the White House have been urging local law enforcement agencies to begin collecting the data in response to nationwide allegations of “racial profiling.”‘ Motorists of color say they have been illegally singled out by police in traffic stops solely because of their race.

John Crew, Director of the Police Practices Project at the ACLU of Northern California, appeared before the Police Commission last night and said he was pleased that San Francisco has shown leadership on the issue.

“This is an issue that has been affecting police community relations not only in this state, but in this country for decades,” Crew told the Chronicle after the meeting. “Frankly, it is high time for law enforcement to take this issue seriously.”

A bill sponsored by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, would require California law enforcement agencies to collect racial data. It has been approved by the state Legislature and if signed by the governor, it would give San Francisco police until 2001 to begin their program.

But the city Police Commission, urged by local ACLU officials, said it wanted the San Francisco program to begin much sooner, and voluntarily.

The commission’s action makes San Francisco the 34th city to join the list of California police agencies that have decided to voluntarily collect traffic-stop data and analyze it for possible racial profiling. San Jose and San Diego were among the first cities to begin tallying their traffic stops.

“We’re going to fully cooperate with it,” Officer Sherman Ackerson, a San Francisco police spokesman told the Chronicle.

Ackerson told the paper that any sort of racial profiling is not tolerated by the department, noting that the agency’s general orders specifically prohibit officers from making stops based on race. “We feel comfortable that our officers are acting properly,” Ackerson said.

The ACLU’s Crew called the action a “modest step” in dealing with racial profiling. Once collected, the data will show not only how many people of color are pulled over by police, but also how they are treated afterward, Crew said.

Examining the race of those who have their vehicles searched — versus the race of those whose cars are not searched — will go a long way in understanding race-based traffic stops, he said. “It’s naive to think that San Francisco is immune from this problem,” he said.

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