- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

RICHMOND — Police and sheriff’s departments in Virginia have new tools to help them avoid discriminating against racial and ethnic groups in the course of their enforcement activities.

Gov. Mark Warner joined state and local law-enforcement officials yesterday to present a report and model training guidelines issued by an Advisory Panel on Bias-Based Policing created by the General Assembly last year.

Mr. Warner stressed that although a Virginia State Police study last year concluded that racial profiling is not “a pervasive or malicious problem in Virginia,” the panel’s work “is an important step forward in dealing with a very real perception in minority communities that racial profiling does occur.”

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, noted that the panel included “members of the communities where the perception still exists” that police departments or officers make traffic stops or arrests based on racial profiling or bias.

He said that to his knowledge the panel was the first in the nation to bring together community leaders and police officials from the beginning “instead of waiting until an incident occurred and bringing in the community reactively.”

The panel’s members included state lawmakers and agency officials, as well as judges, police officers, clergy and representatives of minority groups and community groups.

Mr. Warner also announced that as a result of the panel’s deliberations, he has approved changing the Uniform Traffic Summons used across the state to include a telephone number that citizens can call if they have any complaints about an officer’s conduct during a traffic stop.

In addition, the Department of Criminal Justice Services will distribute a series of cards in different languages that police officers can use to help communicate with citizens who speak little or no English.

The panel’s report and model training guidelines represent a first step, Mr. Warner said. Follow-up will include encouraging local police and sheriff’s departments to adopt the guidelines and a consultant study to measure the policy’s results.

The panel issued revised training standards and sample lesson plans for the state’s police academies and a model policy for adoption by local law-enforcement agencies. Adoption of the policy by local agencies is optional.

Among the model standards:

• A general order to be issued to officers noting that they “are prohibited from stopping, detaining, searching or arresting anyone solely because of the person’s race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, ethnicity, age or religion. These characteristics, however, may form part of reasonable suspicion or probable cause when officers are seeking a suspect with one or more of these attributes.”

• The addition of antibias instruction in training guidelines on how to “[b]ehave in a fair and positive manner to develop and maintain a trust relationship with the citizenry,” “Verbally communicate with people with awareness of different levels of understanding” and “Conduct a traffic stop resulting in an enforcement action.”

The advisory panel was created after the General Assembly passed a bill in 2002 directing the criminal justice department to study the issue of bias in police work and to create training guidelines and standards.

The bill — sponsored by Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat, on behalf of Mr. Warner — was passed partly in response to a state police study of racial profiling in Virginia police and sheriff’s departments.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association participated in the study, which was requested by legislators.

The study — based on surveys of local police chiefs and sheriffs — showed that bias was not seen by local officials as a significant problem, but most of those officials agreed that state guidelines would help correct the perception that significant problems did exist.

As evidence of the absence of racial-profiling problems, the report noted that in the five years ending in October 2001, the state police received 63 complaints of racial discrimination out of nearly 6.5 million contacts between state troopers and members of the public, a rate of less than 1 in 100,000.

No complaints were sustained after investigation.

However, among the 98 sheriffs who responded to the survey, four said members of their staff had been victims of racial profiling, and three said they believed members of the public had been victims of racial profiling by their staff.

Some of the comments offered by participants in the survey suggested a possible lack of clarity about the concept of racial profiling.

For example, one respondent commented, “If most arrests and tickets are in a black neighborhood, that does not signal racial profiling.”

Another noted, “With so much news hype concerning terrorists, most of whom are shown as dark skinned and foreign, we do not want unwarranted attention on our reactions.”

Overall, the study concluded that for the three groups surveyed, “the potential for racial bias exists, but the data do not justify calling the use of race as a prime criterion for making a traffic stop a problem.”

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