SFPD accused of racial profiling

February 9, 2009 10:08:12 PM PST
Members of San Francisco's Latino immigrant community packed a supervisors hearing Monday, charging police with racial profiling.

"La comunidad, the community is terrorized," Guillermina Castellanos said. Castellanos was among dozens of mostly Hispanic residents to testify before the supervisors' public safety committee.

"In the Mission, for instance, there has been an increased effort to do more stops," San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said.

The packed hearing was called by Campos; he said his office received an alarming number of complaints from Mission District residents who are charging police with racial profiling in traffic stops.

Edgar rodriguez claims he was doing nothing wrong when he was stopped.

"I was searched and handcuffed right there in the street," he said.

Carlos Beltrain says police chased him to the Bay Bridge for no apparent reason.

"The police officer came up to me and said, 'your car smells like alcohol,' and I said, 'well, that's news to me because I haven't been drinking,'" Beltrain said through a translator.

Police say traffic stops are an important part of their campaign to reduce crime, especially in districts with gangs and a lot of violence, including the Mission, Bayview and Tenderloin.

"By stepping up enforcement in those zone areas, we've reduced considerably the number of non-fatal shootings," San Francisco Police Department Commander John Murphy said.

The head of the police traffic division says the department does not tolerate racial profiling

"Today, the San Francisco Police Department is so enlightened and so tolerant that I don't know even how this could be an issue," Captain Greg Corrales said.

But those who testified believe they are being targeted because they are immigrants and police stop them because they are sure they are driving illegally.

"They've been stopped and just because they look like me, they're asked, 'we're sure you don't have a driver's license,'" Ana Perez of the Central American Resource Center said.

Whether racial profiling exists or not, the perception that Latinos are being singled out has created a lack of trust in police, Perez said.