Gov. Janet Napolitano’s parting gifts to Arizona include reforms to prevent racial profiling by the Department of Public Safety.
She appointed nine Arizonans to review traffic stops and racial profiling as part of a 2003 court settlement.
Their recommendations, released Tuesday after 19 months of work, should go a long way toward protecting not only the privacy rights of motorists, but also the professional conduct of DPS officers.
Officers now must get a driver’s consent before searching a vehicle – by signature, an audiotape or on video.
The officer also must complete a form enumerating what factors raised suspicion about the vehicle.
If a driver won’t consent to a search, the officer can try to get a warrant. But that requires probable cause, a higher standard than reasonable suspicion.
The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a class-action lawsuit after citizens alleged that DPS officers were stopping Hispanic drivers at a higher rate than white motorists.
Indeed, DPS data from 2006 and 2007 showed that Hispanic drivers were much more likely to be ticketed and less likely to receive warnings for infractions.
Hispanics, Native Americans and black drivers also were “significantly more likely” to be arrested and searched, says a November report.
Whether race was the motivation wasn’t proven, but the data certainly suggest a propensity for targeting minorities – whether consciously or subconsciously.
Arizona is a major conduit for narcotics, guns and illegal immigrants brought north out of Mexico, so DPS officers have plenty of interaction with criminals from Mexico.
Arizona also is a heavily Hispanic state, however, with many residents who have been here for multiple generations, long before whites ever arrived in this country.
So while our state desperately needs rigorous law enforcement to curtail illegal trafficking, we also must have state officers who are mindful of Arizona’s rich ethnic diversity.
We depend on DPS officers to exercise good judgment, sans preconceived notions toward any group.
Sound, dispassionate, professional law enforcement is essential to any society, but it is particularly important in Arizona, which bears the brunt of more border-related crime than any other state.
We appreciate the work by the Citizens Traffic Stop Advisory Board, its use of experts from the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute and its recommended reforms, some of which DPS already has instituted.
We appreciate our DPS officers, too. And we’re glad the new practices will protect them from any suspicions of wrongdoing.