April 23, 1999

San Diego Police To Begin Tracking Race-Based Stops This Summer

The Associated Press

tarting this summer, the San Diego Police Department will record the race of each person stopped by a traffic officer and why, even if no ticket was issued.

The department, which polices the nation's sixth largest city, will become the first major metropolitan agency to voluntarily tally the race or ethnic background of motorists questioned. Currently, no record is required if the driver doesn't get cited.

Minorities nationwide have complained to the American Civil Liberties Union that police officers routinely use obscure or minor code violations such as under-inflated tires as a pretext to stop them in hopes of finding more serious offenses. They say their only crime is ``driving while black (or brown)'' and whites are not stopped as often by officers.

The ACLU has called for police agencies to record who they stop and why to determine whether there is a trend of racially-motivated stops, but some police departments have resisted, citing an extra burden to officers, longer traffic stops and added costs.

San Diego and San Jose are among some of the larger police departments that have agreed to keep records on all traffic stops. The San Diego Police Department designed a computer database so officers can easily input the information after each stop. The accounting will begin this summer.

Sgt. Michael Privatt, a longtime traffic officer for the San Diego Police Department, doesn't believe there is a problem with racially-motivated stops in his city. He hopes the database will show that over time.

Last week, the California chapter of the ACLU launched a campaign to draw attention to the problem. Attorney General Janet Reno also urged police departments nationwide to conduct such surveys to gage the extent of the problem.

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