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Friday April 20, 2001

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College of Law holds panel discussion on racial profiling

Headline Photo


Tucson police captain John Levit (left) and UA College of Law professor Bernard Harcourt discuss the implications of racial profiling as they pertain to a hypothetical situation presented in yesterday's panel discussion on racial profiling at the UA College of Law. The discussion was part of a week-long series of events at the law school on the subject of racial profiling.

By Daniel Scarpinato

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Officials say Tucson's response to the issue is more focused than most cities

Complaints of racial profiling in Tucson are aggressively followed up on, local police experts said yesterday at a discussion in the James E. Rogers College of Law.

Questions were directed at Liana Perez, an independent police auditor for the city, and John Levit, Tucson Police Department captain and city manager liaison for racial profiling concerns.

Perez said the police department began looking into the issue of racial profiling in fall 1999.

"The city's response to the issue was different and more focused than most other areas around the country," she said. "Some communities chose to ignore the problem altogether."

Perez pointed out that although there were only 18 reported complaints of racial profiling at the time, the issue needed to be dealt with.

She also said that in Tucson, 20 percent of complaints concerning racial profiling are investigated. Nationwide, only 5 percent to 8 percent are investigated.

"The numbers of sustained complaints in Tucson is much higher than in other places," she said.

"The complaints are not all telling of the problem," she added. "Some don't file complaints because they don't think it will do any good."

Levit agreed, and said every TPD officer is given business cards. Officers are encouraged to give individuals who have been stopped or pulled over a card and explain why they were questioned.

Levit tells his officers to look at the situation, change the race of the individual and ask themselves if they would still pull that person over.

Perez said that often, an individual feels he or she has been racially profiled because there is a lack of communication between the officer and the individual.

Officers who are found to have committed racist actions could potentially lose their jobs, but Levit pointed out that those kinds of cases are rare.

He could only think of one incident where an officer was fired after continuously making racial remarks and having complains filed against him.

"Civil services sent him back to us," Levit explained. "We had no choice but to pay him to not return to his job."

Perez told the audience that the majority of complaints of racial profiling come from whites, not minority races - but she noted that individuals are not required to reveal their race when making a complaint.