Palo Alto chief approves profiling

October 31, 2008 12:04:53 AM PDT
There was a surprising admission on Thursday night from Palo Alto's Police Chief. She admits she ordered officers to question African-Americans they see around town to find out who they are. Critics say this is a clear case of racial profiling.

The meeting was called because of the recent increase in robberies, some which have happened near the University Caltrain Station, but some in the audience were upset about the way the police department decided to go about catching the criminals.

Palo Alto Police Chief Lynne Johnson, spoke to a few dozen people in the City Council chambers about the increase in robberies and burglaries.

"We do not want to create an environment of fear of people of color in this community, absolutely not, but on the other hand we have to do due diligence in trying to apprehend the suspects that are doing this," said Chief Johnson.

She said because several of the suspects are African-American and the descriptions are vague, she's instructed her officers to make contact with African-Americans in Palo Alto.

"When our officers are out there and they see an African-American, in a congenial way, we want them to find out who they are," said Chief Johnson.

Aram James confronted Chief Johnson about what he called racial profiling. The defense attorney and police watchdog says this type of police work comes close to being unconstitutional.

"Certainly the police have the right to contact anyone, but when they are doing that based on simply skin color, I believe it's impermissible. I think it's outrageous," said Aram James, a defense attorney.

Chief Johnson said it's not unconstitutional and the people stopped by officers have a right to not engage in the conversation. She said the street robberies have increased and police need to use common sense when trying to find the suspects, even if that means stopping people based on vague descriptions.

"The one suspect around the California Avenue train station was wearing a doo-rag. If my officers see an African-American who has a doo-rag on his head, absolutely the officers will be stopping and asking who that person is," said Chief Johnson.

Chief Johnson said she's aware of abuses of this type of police work in the past and says she wants to be made aware if any of those abuses take place in her department.


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