Does Hartford Racial Profiling Proposal Go Too Far?
It's a problem, yes, but police chief's views must be taken into account
August 25, 2010
Hartford city councilman Luis Cotto stirred up a hornet's nest recently by introducing an ordinance to combat racial profiling — as when police stop an individual simply because he has black or brown skin.
Profiling happens, and it shouldn't. But Mr. Cotto may not have the best remedy. Individuals already have legal protections, including a state law against being singled out solely on the basis of race and other traits.
Mr. Cotto's proposed ordinance, part of a national campaign against profiling, would prohibit Hartford police from participating in intelligence-collecting programs involving federal immigration agencies, military officials or private data companies. It also would ban officers from engaging in surveillance not supported by a specific warrant.
It says police "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" unless the individual is linked to a specific criminal incident.
The councilman said he wanted to get a conversation started about racial profiling in Hartford. He did. Some of the reaction at a public hearing this week was heated. There were pro and con opinions.
For his part, Police Chief Daryl Roberts opposes the ordinance.
In a letter to top city officials and state and federal law enforcement agencies, Mr. Roberts said the proposed ordinance would greatly restrict the 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." It could also put the city at risk of losing grant funds that require information sharing and agency cooperation.
Chief Roberts told the city council that Mr. Cotto's proposal is unclear and contradictory, prohibits the police department from being proactive and violates case law.
The "conversation" on profiling should continue. But Chief Roberts has some powerful reservations about Mr. Cotto's ordinance that must be taken into account.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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