Hartford City Council Considers Anti-Profiling Ordinance
By JENNA CARLESSO and STEVEN GOODE
August 19, 2010
HARTFORD — — The city's police would be limited in their immigration enforcement and domestic surveillance activities under an ordinance the city council is considering.
Introduced last week, the ordinance would prohibit the police department from participating in intelligence-collection programs involving federal immigration agencies, military officials or private data companies. It also would ban officers from engaging in surveillance not supported by a warrant specific to the time, place and target.
Councilman Luis Cotto said he introduced the ordinance, in part, as a way to get a conversation started about racial profiling in the city. And it worked. Emotions ran high at a public hearing Monday when residents were able to speak about the proposal.
"Racial profiling exists. It is very much a reality in this state and it is very much a reality in this city," Cotto said Wednesday.
His ordinance would add a new article to the city's municipal code dealing with the limitations. It includes a section banning police from conducting racial and ethnic profiling: "Local law enforcement agents and agencies shall not select individuals for surveillance, searches, pat-downs, interrogations or arrest based in any part on the individual's race, ethnicity, country of origin or religion (except where trustworthy information relevant to the locality and timeframe links an individual … to a specific criminal incident or scheme)."
Cotto said he has experienced racial profiling in Hartford and elsewhere.
"It seems like a no-brainer not to do surveillance on someone unless they are suspected of doing a crime, but in this day and age, you have to spell that out for people," he said.
The ordinance was referred to the council's quality of life and public safety committee for review.
Some members of the Hartford Police Department have opposed the ordinance, saying it would tie officers' hands on the job.
In a memo to Corporation Counsel Saundra Key Borges, Mayor Pedro Segarra and state and federal law enforcement officials, Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts wrote that the ordinance "would greatly restrict the Hartford Police Department's ability to function as a law enforcement agency and preclude us from working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners." In addition, he wrote, "the city of Hartford may also be at risk of losing grant funds we received from federal, state and local governments that require information sharing and agency cooperation."
Roberts said, during a city council committee meeting Tuesday, that the ordinance was flawed because it uses unclear language, contradicts itself, prohibits the department from being proactive, violates established federal state, local and criminal case law and limits the department's ability to infiltrate organized groups who may claim a 1st Amendment right.
Roberts said Wednesday that he was taken aback because the department works hard to build public trust. The ordinance, he said, also insinuates that there are problems between the department and city residents.
"They don't know the needs of our community," he said. "We have a great rapport and we're working hard to change the culture."
The council will likely take a vote on the issue later this fall, Cotto said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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