- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

RICHMOND Racial profiling by police in Virginia is not a systemic problem, law enforcement authorities told a House of Delegates committee yesterday.

But officials with the authors of the study the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Sheriffs Association and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police conceded there could be an underreporting of racial profiling and called for legislation mandating localities to have written policies that ban the practice.

"While there is no hard evidence of any institutional or systemic problem in Virginia, I don't think anyone that is responsible for managing a police department … can know what is in the hearts of each individual officer," Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Gerald Massengill told the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

Col. Massengill said the number and percentage of the traffic stops, arrests and searches generally reflect the population of the state. For instance, of the 4,213 searches conducted from April 29 through Dec. 15 of last year, 61.9 percent were of whites, while 29.2 percent were of blacks.

"There is nothing at all alarming about that report," Col. Massengill said.

He and others said one of the key tools to end racial profiling was to have a clear, written policy that addresses issues of race and ethnicity. He also said better cultural-diversity training is also needed.

Virginia State Police already have a statewide policy on profiling, Col. Massengill said.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said he had no reason to question the validity of the report, but added he still wants the General Assembly to pass legislation that would require local police departments to have some sort of written policy saying racial profiling will not be tolerated.

Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall said specific policies banning racial profiling are especially important in law enforcement.

"Nowhere is the impact of discrimination worse than when it's practiced by someone who carries a badge," Mr. Marshall said.

John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said his group found that 85 percent of sheriff's departments did not have a written policy prohibiting racially based policing. He said a policy is needed to ensure public support of law enforcement.

But in a survey of police departments across the state, about 35 percent said they were not sure if a statewide model as is being suggested by Mr. Warner and law enforcement groups would help curb racial profiling.

Yesterday, some lawmakers said the legislation requiring a written policy sponsored by Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat may be too heavy-handed.

"I don't know whether we need a law on something like this," said Delegate Glenn W. Weatherholtz, Harrisonburg Republican, adding he was concerned about the state micromanaging localities through the law.

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