Palo Alto police chief accused of profiling

November 2, 2008 12:17:25 PM PST
Palo Alto's police chief denies her officers are profiling African Americans and says the remarks she made at a community meeting Thursday night are being "misinterpreted."

At that Thursday meeting Police Chief Lynne Johnson said, "When our officers are out there and they see an African American you know, in a, in a congenial way, we want them to find out who they are. The one suspect was wearing a doo-rag. We, my officers see an African American who has a do-rag on his head, absolutely we will be, the officers will be stopping and trying to find out who that person is."

Friday morning the chief told ABC7, "If I have offended anybody, I apologize."

Chief Johnson told ABC7 that Palo Alto police do not engage in racial profiling.

"What I meant to say was that the officers, when they see not just the African American male adult, but the behavior, if the person is acting suspicious then they are to make contact and find out who that person is."

The Thursday night meeting was held in response to a rash of violent robberies. There have been 16 since June. Even though the suspect descriptions have been vague, in different robberies they're reported to include African American, Hispanic, white and Pacific Islander men.

So when Chief Johnson spoke of talking only to African Americans it outraged community members. Her words spread quickly, especially just across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto, home to a large African American community.

"This is totally unacceptable and outrageous," said Jeff Moore, head of the NAACP in South Bay.

"The police have better tactics they can use to find a suspect than just pulling over everybody and just stopping anybody. Again, this could be an executive at Bank of America," said Moore.

"Most police would not admit they do racial profiling, so she has really made a slip up here," he added.

Congresswoman Anna Eschoo, who represents the district, asked the police chief to rescind her comments or resign.

The statement also drew scrutiny from the ACLU.

This type of statement can lead police officers on the beat to do things that they know they shouldn't be doing." said ACLU attorney Michael Risher.

Risher told ABC7 that even the chief's explanation is troubling adding, "They need to have a reason to think that we as individuals have done something wrong, not some generalized suspicion that we look suspicious."

"I think Palo Alto is historically a racist community," said East Palo Alto City councilmen Peter Evans

He doesn't buy the police chief's explanation. He told ABC7 that he and his wife have been stopped before by Palo Alto police for no apparent reason.

"They wouldn't let me go. They took a picture of my van. They took a picture of me and probably put it in some system."

The NAACP said previously that it plans to contact the Palo Alto Police Department over concerns that racial profiling by police could become unconstitutional, leading to invasion of privacy, and unreasonable search and seizure.


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