Pubdate: Fri, 28 Feb 2003
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau


ACLU Hails Accord Over The Stopping Of A Latino Driver In A Drug Search.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Highway Patrol announced a series of 
measures Thursday aimed at ending the use of racial profiling by its 
officers, part of a settlement hailed as a major agreement by the American 
Civil Liberties Union. The CHP agreement settles a 1999 federal 
class-action lawsuit stemming from a CHP drug interdiction operation near 
San Jose that stopped a car driven by a lawyer of Latino descent.

The CHP's settlement with the ACLU of Northern California, which brought 
the suit, extends for three years an existing CHP moratorium on the use of 
consent searches -- those where officers who have no evidence of criminal 
activity ask drivers for permission to search their cars.

The agency also will clarify its policy that officers not use minor traffic 
violations as a pretext to stop vehicles for drug-interdiction purposes 
when there is no probable cause the occupants are engaged in drug trafficking.

Critics of racial profiling consider consent searches and "pretext stops" 
as significant indicators that police are utilizing race as the lone basis 
for suspecting drivers of involvement in drug or other criminal activity.

The CHP also will create the post of auditor, who will review data 
detailing who is pulled over on traffic violations, the reasons for the 
stop, the officers involved and the incidence of arrests.

The lawsuit's goal was to change CHP practices that encouraged a climate 
whereby "race and racial stereotyping had become a proxy for criminal 
activity," Alan Schlosser, legal director of the ACLU of Northern 
California, said at a press conference.

"The fact that the CHP is endorsing and joining with us to institute these 
changes gives us confidence that they are going to make a difference on the 
highways and not just in the policy manuals," Schlosser added, calling the 
settlement "a landmark."

However, CHP Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick asserted the pact does not 
go much beyond current policies. While praising ACLU efforts, he said the 
extension of the current moratorium on consent searches, for example, would 
have continued as long as he remains commissioner.

"Hell, I would have done that anyway," he said in an interview. "We simply 
called it an out-of-court settlement" that avoids burdensome legal costs, 
he added.

But Curtis Rodriguez, 44, the San Jose lawyer whose 1998 traffic stop by 
CHP officers kicked off the lawsuit, said he was personally satisfied with 
the accord.

"It was not my expectation that they would wave a magic wand and all racial 
mistreatment or problems would disappear," Rodriguez said after the press 
conference. "It's an important step."

The lawsuit highlighted three specific incidents, including Rodriguez's, in 
which the ACLU contended that CHP officers pulled over drivers solely 
because of their race. The drivers in the other two incidents, which 
occurred near Los Banos, were African American and Latino. No arrests were 
made and no contraband was found as a result of those stops.

Jon Streeter, a lawyer working with the ACLU, said research into more than 
1 million traffic stops by CHP officers in the agency's central and coastal 
divisions in 2000 and 2001 showed Latinos were pulled over three times as 
often, and African Americans 1.5 times as often, as white drivers.

Streeter said law-enforcement agencies frequently contend that minorities 
are pulled over more often because they are more involved in crime.

"We felt that looking at the actual evidence ... minorities are no more 
likely to be carrying drugs than any ethnic group in our country," he said. 
"This is the heart of the problem, the difference between the stereotype 
and the actual fact."

The expanded traffic-stop data required by the settlement will be reviewed 
by supervisors and ultimately by the CHP auditor, who will report directly 
to the commissioner. Officers also are to get regular training on the 
settlement's mandates.

The agreement requires the CHP to pay $875,000 -- $50,000 each to Rodriguez 
and the other two named plaintiffs in the case and the remainder to help 
defray legal expenses.

Schlosser praised Helmick and other top CHP officials for working on a 
resolution, citing the commissioner's 2001 order barring consent searches 
- -- though the CHP admitted no guilt in the settlement.

Helmick contended that his officers do not engage in racial profiling. But 
he acknowledged the perception in ethnic communities that police often stop 
vehicles because of the race of their drivers -- a view that has become 
known as "driving while black."

Mark Schlosberg, an ACLU lawyer, said the accord could be used as a model 
by other police agencies.

He noted that in cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco, traffic-stop 
data have shown large disparities in the way ethnic minority drivers are 
treated compared to white drivers.

A recent Sacramento Police Department report found that African American 
drivers are stopped at nearly twice the rate of their portion of the 
driving-age population.

Latinos are pulled over at a rate roughly matching their percentage of the 
driving-age population, while Asian American and white drivers are stopped 
at lower rates.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom