AZ police officers unclear standards hurting minorities

Oro Valley Police Officer Gregory Burgess working HiVE at Oracle and Ina roads on April 8, 2015. (Photo by: Alexandra Aguilera/Arizona Sonora News Service)
Oro Valley Police Officer Gregory Burgess working HiVE at Oracle and Ina roads on April 8, 2015. (Photo by: Alexandra Aguilera/Arizona Sonora News Service)

You’re a mother of a three young children. You’re driving down the road and see sirens begin to flash behind you. You pull over and roll down the window. The officer informs you that your windshield is cracked, and requires identification and proof of citizenship.

Maria Cortes was in this situation. She offered the Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy her full name and a copy of her application for a U-Visa Card, a card she was later granted.

“They put me in a police car, never told me why they were taking me or where I was going, which really worried me because I didn’t know what would happen to my children. The five days I spent detained were a nightmare for me,” said Cortes in a statement made available by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, a non-profit public-interest law firm.

Since the passing of SB 1070 concerns in Arizona have been raised about the effect of racial profiling in policing.

According to the National Institute for Justice, “Minorities frequently report that the police disproportionately single them out because of their race or ethnicity.”

The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board defines racial profiling as, “the reliance on race, skin color and/or ethnicity indication of criminality, reasonable suspicion, or probable cause, except a part of a definition of a suspect.”

Oro Valley Police Officer Gregory Burgess working HiVE at Oracle and Ina roads on April 8, 2015.
Oro Valley Police Officer Gregory Burgess working HiVE at Oracle and Ina roads on April 8, 2015. (Photo By: Alexandra Aguilera/Arizona Sonora News Service)

According to Tucson Police Department’s 2300 Immigration Policy, officers are allowed to detain a person if there is “reasonable suspicion that the person is, has been, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.”

 The policy further states that an officer, when establishing if a person is present in the U.S illegally, cannot use factors such as a person’s race, color or national origin.

Under reasonable suspicion a police officer can question a person’s legal status in the United States, according to the policy.

According to a 2015 article written in the Southern California Law Review, in 2012 Maricopa County Sheriff officers where trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use, “Mexican Ancestry,” while determining if a person is undocumented.

“As a result, MCSO officers targeted individuals on the sole basis of their Mexican appearance, in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” said the article, “The reasonableness of a race-based suspicion: the fourth amendment and the costs of benefits of racial profiling in immigration enforcement. “

 In a 2012 article written in the journal of Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, authors argue that Arizona officers have yet to receive clear guidance about what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” 

“The instructional materials that law-enforcement officers have received, which have been issued by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, do indeed repeatedly caution against racial profiling, yet provide only ambiguous guidance as to what information will constitute a reasonable suspicion (Arizona Peace Officer Training and Standards Board, 2010a),” according to the article, “Can Racial Profiling Be Avoided Under Arizona Immigration Law? Lessons Learned From Subtle Bias Research and Anti-Discrimination Law.”

 According to the article, current instructional materials indicate that, under laws such as SB 1070, officers will be required to make a series of judgments, when encountering an individual. Prior and after the passing of SB 1070 officers are to make a judgment of “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity in order to make a stop.

 “Following this judgment, which itself is likely vulnerable to the influence of subtle bias, a second layer of judgments must be made by law-enforcement officers; they must now also determine whether they have a reasonable suspicion that the individual is in the country illegally,” said the article.

 According to the article, ambiguity in the information that should be sought out by police officers and how that information should be used in making a determination if reasonable suspicion exists, “will likely result in greater reliance on implicit attitudes and stereotypes.”

 In 2012, former Gov. Jan Brewer ordered an executive order entitled “Continued Law Enforcement Training for Immigration laws.” This order mandated that the AZPOST, redistribute, the training video and other related materials coordinating with enforcement of SB 1070.

 “And this latest effort to train officers by re-distributing a two-year-old video will do nothing to provide greater clarity on how to prevent racial profiling.  The nature of racial profiling is that law enforcement will use race to stop people if they want to. Police officers could stop people for very minor infractions based on the way they look, and then demand their papers. Or they can make a stop for an unbiased reason and then, based on appearance and nothing else, demand their papers. Either scenario is racial profiling and unconstitutional,” says Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona Executive Director, in a statement made available by the ACLU.

 Lyle Mann, Executive Director of AZPOST, disagrees that training materials provided to officers by AZPOST lack structure. Mann states that the SB 1070 was “just not well crafted,” which led to many debates on how to interpret the law.

 “Given the time frame and the direction that we were under, at that point in time, I think that we did as good as job as we could in the statement of the facts of the matter,” said Mann.

 According to Mann, AZPOST provided training to officers but had no ability to review the individual policies of agencies to determine whether it complimented or contradicted the training provided.

 In October of 2013, officers in Tucson stopped Agustin Reyes and Arturo Robles for a broken license plate light. Within minute after the officers requested the vehicle’s records the officer asked the two men “where they are from.” The two men did not have identification on them but gave the officer their full names. The officer called Border Patrol, according to a claim filed by the ACLU of Arizona against Tucson Police Department.

 “The detention of Mr. Reyes was prolonged by TPD beyond the time reasonably necessary to complete the original purpose of the stop (purportedly for driving with a broken license plate light) without any additional reasonable suspicious or probable cause to believe he was engaging in any unlawful activity that would justify his continued detention,” according to the claim.

 According to the claim, after being detained by U.S Customs and Border Patrol Reyes was cited for a broken license plate light, and driving without a license. Robles was not charged with any crime proceeding from the incident.

In 2008, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division concluded an investigation into civil rights violations by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

 A leading analyst with the Department of Justice studied racial profiling through statistical analysis of Maricopa County Sheriff police traffic stops. The analyst found that Latino drivers were nine times more likely to be stopped compared to non-Latino drivers.

“Overall, the expert concluded that this case involves the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he has ever personally seen in the course of his work, observed in litigation, or reviewed in professional literature,” said a letter from Department of Justice Civil Right’s Division Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

In 2009, Arizona Department of Public Safety concluded a three-year study of traffic stop data.

 According to the report, Traffic Stop Data Analysis Study: Year 3 Final Report, Hispanics and Blacks received the highest percentage of citations. Hispanics, Native American and Black drivers were significantly more likely to be arrested and searched compared to White drivers.    

According to the report, Hispanic motorist were more likely than Whites to be searched during traffics stop, however; “they were significantly less likely than Whites to be found in possession of contraband.”

Alexandra Aguilera is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at amaguilera@email.arizona.edu.

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