San Jose police say they don’t target minorities

The Associated Press
Saturday December 02, 2000

SAN JOSE — Black and Hispanic drivers are pulled over more often than whites in San Jose, according to statistics released Friday, but the police department said that does not mean its officers target minorities. 

Police say more stops are made in higher-crime areas where nonwhites tend to live. With more officers patroling neighborhoods with more minorities, the police say, blacks and Hispanics are pulled over more often. 

“It has to do with where the highest number of calls are,” said San Jose Police Chief William Lansdowne.  

“And it is unfortunately in the minority neighborhoods.” 

Lansdowne released a summary of some 97,000 traffic stops made between June 1999 and June 2000.  

The department voluntarily launched the project after community allegations of racial profiling – also known as “driving while black.” 

Last December, San Jose became the first major U.S. city to compile traffic stop demographic data. Friday’s report coupled more comprehensive statistics with an analysis of the data. 

Friday’s study reported that: 

• Hispanics are 31 percent of the city’s population and 41 percent of drivers stopped. 

• Blacks are 4.5 percent of the population and 7 percent of drivers stopped. 

• Whites are 43 percent of the population and 32 percent of drivers stopped. 

• Asians are 21 percent of the population and 16 percent of drivers stopped. 

Civil rights groups have hailed San Jose as a pioneer in confronting the issue.  

That does not mean, however, such groups accept the judgment that profiling isn’t a problem in the city. 

“I don’t agree with the conclusion,” said Victor Garza, chairman of La Raza Round Table, a group representing Hispanics that has consulted with the department. 

“I believe that the majority of the police officers may not be involved in racial profiling. I still do feel that there are others that are.” 

Other groups were more openly skeptical. 

“The reality is that one of the downsides of being poor and a person of color in San Jose is that you are more likely to be pulled over,” said Michelle Alexander, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco. 

Lansdowne said he anticipated such concerns. 

“It’s all about building trust and understanding and openness,” Lansdowne said. “And that’s what we’ve learned we need to work on as a department.” 

He said the department’s 1,400 employees will undergo a two-hour course on “interpersonal relationships” beginning early next year. 

Alexander said no training will change a fundamental flaw in the study – that it doesn’t record how often people were searched. 

“If data is only collected when drivers are stopped, it may seem like no discrimination is happening when in fact it is rampant,” Alexander said.  

“Search data is absolutely essential” because it shows if minorities “are being viewed and treated as criminals whereas whites are not.” 

Police said they omitted search data because their computer collection system could only accommodate three new entries and the department chose race, age and gender.