Alleged Race Profiling Is Targeted


For Californians who doubt assertions that minority drivers are singled out by police for traffic stops, state Sen. Kevin Murray offers a test.

"If you are a disbeliever, go out and ask your minority friends, particularly male friends, if this has happened to them. The response you will get will be overwhelming that it is happening," he says.

Such evidence, gathered in what he calls the "Murray test," would be anecdotal, the Culver City Democrat concedes. But he believes it also would be persuasive in building support for his controversial bill to require local officers to record the race or ethnicity of every motorist they stop for the next five years.

Additionally, the bill (SB 1389) would require that officers report the reason for each stop, whether a citation or warning was issued and, if the vehicle was searched, whether an arrest was made.

The information would be sent to the California Highway Patrol, which would combine it with its own findings and make annual reports to the Legislature.

Murray argues that the results of the regularly updated statewide statistical survey would conclusively document or debunk the phenomenon known in minority communities as DWB, or "driving while black or brown."

The toughest to persuade probably will be Gov. Gray Davis, who stunned and angered civil rights organizations last year when he vetoed a virtually identical bill by Murray.

Backed by police chiefs and county sheriffs, Davis said he found no evidence that racial profiling was a statewide problem, though he said there are "a few specific areas where this problem has occurred."

Since then, Davis has given no second thought to his veto of the bill, press secretary Michael Bustamante said last week. But the aide indicated that the governor might be open to seeking a compromise this time around.

"Since last year, we've had conversations with [Murray] and, hopefully, we might be able to develop a new bill that seeks a middle ground," Bustamante said.

Murray said he views such a public signal by Davis' office as an indication that the governor "seems to now agree that this is an issue that must be dealt with and they are prepared to do something. . . . Hopefully, we can close the loop."

Many African American and Latino drivers charge that they are singled out and stopped in numbers disproportionate to their share of the driving population.

"This issue has reached critical mass in communities of color," insisted Murray, an African American lawmaker who was pulled over in 1998 by Beverly Hills police in what he called a DWB-style stop. Police later said his car had no front license plate.

Civil rights organizations assert that "racial profiling" is pervasive, not only in California, but also nationally. In an attempt to learn the scope of the practice, President Clinton ordered federal law enforcement agencies last year to gather statistical information on the race, ethnicity and gender of people they stop for questioning or arrest.

Murray said statewide data collection in California would help ensure accountability by police and begin to heal strained relations between minority communities and law enforcement officers.

When Davis vetoed Murray's bill last year, the governor said 35 local police departments, including those in San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco, had voluntarily begun collecting the kind of information sought by Murray or had announced plans to do so. The figure has since swelled to at least 55, according to the CHP.

Since July, the CHP has been collecting racial and ethnic data on motorists whom officers stop but who do not receive citations, including stops in which drivers are warned or given assistance. Traffic tickets have long included entries for drivers' gender and race or ethnicity.

In September, Davis issued an executive order formalizing the practice and directing the CHP to make its findings public. The CHP will announce results from the first 10 months of its survey July 1. At least two additional reports to the Legislature are expected during the three-year project.

But Murray charges that local voluntary efforts and the CHP project leave major gaps, especially in the populous city of Los Angeles and in Los Angeles County, whose officers do not survey motorists for ethnic or racial information.

Murray said he has had "positive" discussions with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. "He's coming around. He has not determined how to address the issue, but he has finally come to the realization that he wants to address the issue," the assemblyman said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, who opposed Murray's bill last year, remains a tough sell. "He is in the minority, I think, even among big-city police chiefs, because all the other big cities in California are at least working on it," Murray said.

Spokesmen for Baca and Parks did not return repeated calls from a reporter for comment.

As an alternative to data collection, law enforcement representatives have proposed that officers receive additional training in issues related to cultural diversity, race and ethnicity. Murray said he is willing to consider extra training, but is unwilling to give up the accountability that he believes data collection would provide.

At a hearing last week by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, one witness testified that requiring officers to record the race or ethnicity of motorists threatened to undo training that officers have received in California for at least a decade.

"We feel that officers' collecting data on ethnicity is in direct conflict with the training that they be colorblind when they deal with the public on all issues," Tom Hood of the state Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission testified.

But committee Chairman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) shot back: "That would be sweet, if the training had taken hold. It's a little naive [to believe that], in my estimation."

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