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The recent experience of a Cape Cod, Mass., news reporter who said police detained him solely because he is an African-American illustrated clearly what the legislator, the law professor, the police chief, the prosecutor and the civil rights attorney came together to say about “racial profiling.” “This is a racial illusion that police have. They really believe minorities are more likely to carry contraband, when the numbers show they are no more likely to do this than whites,” said Deborah A. Ramirez, a Northeastern University School of Law professor who consults with the federal Department of Justice on the issue. Ramirez was joined recently on the panel, “Racial Profiling: Its Legal Impact,” by Andrea J. Cabral, chief of District Court prosecutions for Massachusetts’s Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office; Chelsea Chief of Police Rafael P. Hernandez Jr.; Jarrett T. Barrios, a democratic state representative from Cambridge; and Richard W. Cole, chief of the Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Division for the Massachusetts Attorney General. The Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys sponsored the event held in Boston. CONTRABAND CARRIERS Surveys done in jurisdictions as different from each other as New York City and the U.S. Customs Service have borne out Ramirez’ assessments. A 1998 survey of 51,000 individuals by customs showed virtually the same number of whites and blacks — and somewhat fewer Latinos — were found carrying contraband; similar results came out of extensive surveys in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and in London. Before President Bill Clinton issued an order earlier this year that federal enforcement agencies keep track of racial/ethnic characteristics of those they detain — a way to determine numerically how often minorities are stopped in vehicles or as pedestrians, compared to whites — only a handful of communities collected such data. Now, dozens are collecting this information nationwide, either on a local or statewide basis — although only Brookline keeps the figures in Massachusetts, and only when written traffic citations are given. However, as the only policeman on the panel, Hernandez said he takes issue with the term “profiling” — often used by police as a legitimate criminal detection tool, he said — when what is really taking place are acts of discrimination. CALL IT WHAT IT IS “If we’re talking about racial discrimination, call it that. If we’re talking about racial stereotyping, call it that,” he said. “We get calls all the time from people who say they’ve seen someone who ‘doesn’t fit’ in the area where they live. How do we measure that? We don’t want to be part of the problem, but there are concerns in the police rank-and-file that every time they stop someone they are going to be sued.” From the legislative front, Barrios has co-sponsored a bill that would authorize the attorney general to conduct a study of routine traffic stops by police throughout the state. If approved, the attorney general would present the findings to the Legislature. Barrios said he doesn’t expect the bill to be acted on by the end of the current legislative session. Requiring communities to collect data on who is being stopped routinely by police, he said, is one way to build the public’s trust of police. “This is a way of vindicating communities where it is not happening,” he said. “If people in a community perceive that it is happening, then that is what is [believed to be] happening, so you have to collect data everywhere to dispel suspicion and establish trust of the police.” Cole said the justice department’s goal is to present police departments nationwide with model training programs and data collection forms by the end of the Clinton administration. “Without changing [police] attitudes, I don’t think you are going to change behavior, and that’s a very important component here,” said Coles. ADVANTAGES OF DIVERSITY To that end, Cabral said hiring a racially-diverse police force, training them differently and encouraging officers to speak out when they see racial profiling practiced by their colleagues could lead to ending the practice. “One of the easiest and cheapest ways to change attitudes is to increase diversity in departments and change the methods of training,” she said. While Ramirez said studies have shown hiring more minority officers won’t necessarily change behavior on racial profiling, Hernandez said he saw the positive effect of diversifying police forces firsthand when he began his police career as a young Hispanic officer in Florida. “By diversifying police forces, you will eliminate the need for data collection,” he said.

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