San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 2009
(02-09) 19:15 PST — Dozens of San Francisco residents said Monday that they have been victims of alleged racial profiling and police abuse and that the perceived racism has led to widespread distrust of police in the Latino community.
Several speakers at the City Hall hearing said they have been pulled over and given tickets because they had a rosary hanging from their vehicle’s rearview mirror. Others said they had been harassed about their identification or immigration status while they worked, walked or drove home. One family said their car was impounded, after it was hit by a city vehicle, because the father had an Oregon driver’s license. Now they’re selling the car to pay the impound fees.
Police officials said they have strict policies against racial profiling but acknowledged that more work needs to be done to avoid the appearance of harassment. Supervisor David Campos, who called the hearing, demanded internal reforms and said he would introduce legislation to deal with the problem if the Police Department does not.
Advocates said Latino residents have been targeted by police since a controversy erupted last summer over the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, which prohibits the use of city funds to help enforce federal immigration laws. The city came under fire after The Chronicle reported that authorities had flown some illegal immigrant youths to their home countries even after they were convicted of felonies; others were sent to unlocked group homes and escaped.
Police acknowledged Monday that there was an increase in the number of traffic stops last year as part of a larger crime-fighting strategy, and defended the police presence as important in deterring violent crimes. Yet speakers said they were being targeted simply for the way they look.
Rigoberto Rodriguez, 41, said he has yet to get back his green card from police after being stopped on Jan. 15 at 16th and Mission streets for holding an open container of alcohol.
“I didn’t get a citation. I was searched and handcuffed, and nothing was found – but my green card was taken by police,” he said, adding that the card cost him $400. “I can pay a ticket. I know what I was doing was not proper, but what I don’t feel good about is that I should have to go through the process of getting back my ID because of a capricious decision by a police officer.”
Police officials said the department spends hours training new recruits about the issue of racial profiling and has strict policies prohibiting traffic stops without probable cause. They encouraged people to report any abuse to the department’s Office of Citizen Complaints.
That office, however, has a less-than-stellar reputation: A 2007 audit found it to be mismanaged, understaffed, overburdened and slow to complete investigations.
However, criminologist Lorie Fridell – who has been working with the city for two years to evaluate and reform its processes – said the agency is working with the community to respond to these concerns.
Still, after more than three hours of testimony Monday, Capt. Greg Corrales said the department needs to work harder.
“I’m as dismayed as anyone regarding any allegations that someone is being pulled over for no reason. It’s totally unacceptable,” said Corrales, who heads the department’s traffic unit. “Officers have to follow the law, but they also have to use discretion, and pulling someone over because there’s a rosary hanging from their mirror is not good discretion.”
Campos, a former police commissioner who represents the largely Latino Mission District, said many violent crime investigations are hindered by a lack of cooperation from witnesses.
“I hope the department takes this hearing as an opportunity to address the problem,” he said. “It’s not surprising that many people are afraid to come forward and report crimes given the level of fear.”
E-mail Marisa Lagos at email@example.com.
In “S.F. residents claim racial targeting, police abuse” (Feb. 9, 2009), police claim their checkpoints, where they impound cars of undocumented immigrants, are needed for neighborhood safety because their statistics show that a high proportion of unsafe drivers are unlicensed. Hogwash.
Among US citizens, most are allowed to get drivers licenses, so you might expect that a among US citizens who drive without licenses a higher proportion might be unsafe or irresponsible. But among undocumented immigrants, none are allowed to get licenses, and yet most need to drive to get to work, take children to doctors etc. So there’s no reason to expect a higher proportion of unlicensed immigrant drivers to be unsafe, or irresponsible, let alone violent. There’s no justification to SFPD’s claim that traffic stops stop violent crime. Yes, it is racial profiling, plain and simple.
Neighborhoods rightly demand a stop to violent crime, and in response, SFPD sets up neighborhood traffic stops that harass and intimidate the entire neighborhood rather than target crime. ” Why is it middle-school kids know where to get guns but the police department claims they don’t know where they come from?
See SF Gray Panthers webpage on immigrants in San Francisco
Links to other publicity on this hearing: