Newsbrief: California Highway Patrol Settles Racial Profiling Lawsuit 3/7/03

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The California Highway Patrol (CHP) announced a series of reforms on February 27 to settle a racial profiling lawsuit brought against it by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. The ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 1999 after a San Jose-area drug interdiction operation searched a car driven by a Latino lawyer, part of what the ACLU called a pattern of law enforcement activity where "race and racial stereotyping had become a proxy for criminal activity."

According to ACLU researchers who studied the more than one million traffic stops made by CHP in the state's central and coastal divisions in 2000 and 2001, Latinos were pulled over three times as often, and blacks 1.5 times as often, as white drivers. ACLU attorney Jon Streeter told a post-settlement news conference that law enforcement often contends that minorities are pulled over more often because they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, but that his research found differently. "We felt that looking at the actual evidence, minorities are no more likely to be carrying drugs than any ethnic group in the country. This is the heart of the problem, the difference between stereotype and the actual fact," Streeter said.

To settle the lawsuit, the CHP agreed to:

  • Pay a total of $875,000 in damages and legal fees to the three named plaintiffs.
  • Extend for another three years the moratorium on "consent searches," those made when officers have no evidence of criminal activity, but ask drivers to consent to a warrantless, suspicionless search. CHP implemented the no-consent search policy in 2001 in an effort to dampen concerns about racial profiling.
  • Clarify its policy that CHP officers not make "pretext stops," that is, not use minor traffic infractions as a pretext to stop vehicles to search for drugs when there is no indication of drug trafficking.
  • Create the position of CHP auditor, who will review traffic violation data to look for patterns suggestive of racial profiling.
  • Provide training for CHP officers on the settlement's mandates.
"This is a landmark decision," said Northern California ACLU director Alan Schlosser at the press conference. "The fact that 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.

Now, if only other California law enforcement agencies would follow CHP's lead. Traffic stop data from California cities including Sacramento and San Francisco have shown broad differences in the way white and minority drivers are treated.

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Issue #277, 3/7/03 50 Years for Stealing Videotapes? No Problem, Say Justices -- Supreme Court Upholds California Three-Strikes Law | Medical Marijuana Update: Bill Killed in New Mexico, New Ones Introduced in New York and Rhode Island | Australia: NSW Green Party Drug Platform in Tabloid Exposé Furor as Election Looms | "Seeds of Peace" Released in Brussels as Prelude to Vienna UN Conference | Medical Marijuana Supporters Demonstrate at Fundraiser for Presidential Candidate Howard Dean | Alert: HEA Reform Legislation Re-filed, Needs Your Support | Newsbrief: Swiss Lawmakers Give Okay to Continued Prescription Heroin | Newsbrief: Sweden's Drug Head Calls for Needle Exchange Programs Across Country | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Oxycontin Not So Deadly, Researchers Find | Newsbrief: California Highway Patrol Settles Racial Profiling Lawsuit | Kansas Legislators Consider "Treatment Not Jail" Bill | Newsbrief: In Surprise Move, Judge Changes Mind, Declines to Jail Oakland Cannabis Co-op Head | Newsbrief: Two Suicides Enough for One Pot Bust, Says Wisconsin Judge, Orders Probation for Son of Dead Couple | Media Scan: New York Times, The Economist, The Independent, Washington Times, Change the Climate Ads, HRC Newsletter | Drug War Vigil Film Festival Seeking Submissions | The Reformer's Calendar
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