San Jose Police Begin Study of Race and Arrest Patterns

March 25, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU News Wire: March 25, 1999 — San Jose Police Begin Study of Race and Arrest Patterns

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SAN JOSE, CA — The San Jose Police Department is initiating a program to track all car stops made by police citywide to determine whether motorists are being pulled over because of skin color or other characteristics, the San Jose Mercury News reported today.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California welcomed the news, calling it a “significant moment,” in police-community relations.

“The actions of the San Jose Police Department and of Police Chief Lansdowne in particular are to be congratulated,” said John Crew, director of the ACLU of Northern California’s Police Practices Project. “They’re sending a very powerful message nationally on this issue.”

According to the Mercury News, the program, which has been in the making for several months, comes in the wake of an early March incident in which a youth minister alleges officers stopped him for a non-existent traffic violation and assaulted him before releasing him without issuing a citation.

“`There is a very true belief and perception in this community that law enforcement officials are making car stops based on race, gender and dress,” Police Chief Bill Lansdowne told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If that’s happening, it’s improper and illegal.”

According to the ACLU, 12 state legislatures are considering laws requiring police departments to do “what this police department has just announced it’s going to do voluntarily.”

Within two months, Lansdowne hopes to have the program up and running, he told the Mercury News. San Jose is only the second city in California to voluntarily embark on such an effort. San Diego was the first. [/news/1999/w020599d.html]

In San Jose’s pilot project, the race, gender and age of each driver as well as the reason the motorist is being stopped will be entered into the computer terminal of the patrol cruiser. The information will be examined to help determine the existence or extent of inappropriate stops. If such a pattern is uncovered by the information, steps will be taken to “change the way we do business,” Lansdowne told the paper.

The department will also create a policy calling for officers to identify themselves — when safety is not compromised — and notify the drivers exactly why they are being stopped, the paper said. Lansdowne told the Mercury News that the department intends to increase officer training in ethnic sensitivity and individual rights under search and seizure.

In a series of lawsuits brought in Maryland, New Jersey, California and other parts of the [COUNTRY,] the ACLU has succeeded in exerting serious pressure to end race-based traffic stops, a phenomenon dubbed “DWB,” or Driving While Black (or Brown).

And in response to mounting criticism of discriminatory police practices nationwide, Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, has sponsored a federal bill, “The Traffic Stops Statistics Act, H.R. 118,” to study the issue on a national level.

The national ACLU, which strongly supports the Conyers bill, recently published an advertisement on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times [/features/nytimesad100698.html] criticizing the practice of racial profiling. The ACLU has also established a national racial profiling reporting mechanism at /forms/trafficstops.html.

Sources: The San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 1999
The San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1999

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