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August 4th, 2004 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

Fitting a (Racial) Profile

Derrick Foxworth could take a lesson from George Bush.

     
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Last week, the family of James Jahar Perez, who was shot to death by a Portland police officer in March, sued the city, saying his death stemmed from an unconstitutional policy of making traffic stops based on race. Two weeks earlier, the City Council discussed a resolution opposing racial profiling, a resolution based on an earlier finding that black Portlanders were 2.6 times more likely to get pulled over than whites.

So how can Chief Derrick Foxworth say, as he has in the past, that his bureau does not engage in racial profiling?

It's all in how you characterize it. Four years ago, a city committee said racial profiling should be banned, but defined it in a limited way--saying race could be a factor in making a traffic stop, but not the sole reason. That's a far looser policy than that adopted by President George Bush last summer (see below).

As a result, Portland cops have plenty of leeway to consider race when deciding whether to stop someone.

Portland cops say they look at behavior, not race, and usually don't get a good look at drivers when they initiate a traffic stop. So, ask critics of Portland's policy such as Dan Handelman of Copwatch, why not adopt a more stringent policy?

A leading law-enforcement think tank, the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, has rejected the racial-profiling definition adopted by Portland as sorely inadequate. "Even a racially prejudiced officer likely uses more than the single factor of race when conducting biased law enforcement," says the PERF paper on racial profiling.


PORTLAND'S PROFILING POLICY:
Officers may not engage in racial profiling, defined as "the use of race as the sole basis for justifying traffic stops or other police action."

FEDS' PROFILING POLICY:
"In making routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions, such as ordinary traffic stops, Federal law enforcement officers may not use race or ethnicity to any degree, except that officers may rely on race and ethnicity in a specific suspect description."

 
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