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Police Chief Warns Against Racial Profiling Ordinance

Navarre Predicts "Unintended Consequences" if Passed
Photos by: Chris Myers

Lost among the week's headlines are the stern words of Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre, who's vehemently opposed to a proposed racial profiling ordinance now before city council, which received an earful at a public hearing Tuesday on all things immigration-related.

Opponents and proponents of a proposal to define racial profiling in the municipal code got their say—but a divided city council may take weeks to debate and decide the divisive issue.

Councilman Steve Steel proposed the ordinance following a discussion with Board of Community Relations director Juanita Greene. City law department attorney Lourdes Santiago helped draft the legislation, modeled after similar laws in communities across the country, including Columbus and Cincinnati.

The ordinance would essentially be added to civil rights legislation already on the city’s books, but specifically prohibit police officers, inspectors, and other city employees from using racial profiling. The only exception that would be made for police officers is to use profiling criteria when engaged in an active search for a suspect or witness to an offense.

The normally calm and stoic police chief delivered impassioned public testimony against the proposed legislation, which makes racial profiling by a Toledo public official a first-degree misdemeanor—and punishable by up to six months in jail.

“This ordinance is literally going to shut this police department down if you attempt to prosecute one individual,” Navarre warned. “I feel very strongly about it, as you can tell.”

The proposed ordinance defines racial profiling as “a deprivation of a person’s constitutional or statutory right to be free of an unreasonable search or seizure. Racial profiling consists of stopping, detaining, questioning or arresting a person solely based on their race, color, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, language spoken, accent or attire.”

“I think it is unnecessary and is going to have a chilling effect on a police department that is still trying to recover from layoffs that occurred last year and from a labor dispute this year over exigent circumstances,” said Chief Navarre. “Passage of this ordinance by council will have unintended consequences.”

The police chief pointed out a federal law already exists that covers racial profiling.

“If we have a circumstance that is so egregious that it’s going to warrant criminal prosecution, you’re not going to be prosecuting them under a Toledo ordinance,” Navarre said. “The federal government is going to come in and they’re going to prosecute under a federal statute where the sanctions are much more serious.”

Navarre warned the city is facing “a terrible problem” with burglaries in the city. Break-ins increased by ten percent in 2008, 24 percent last year, and 12 percent so far this year.

“We still don’t have a handle on it,” he said. “What do you think is going to happen if you tell those officers that there’s a chance if you stop the wrong person you could go to jail for six months? What kind of an effect is that going to have on a police officer’s mental being?”

The police chief stated his department handles its problems with rules and regulations, citing the fact that 41 officers received reprimands and two dozen others were suspended last year for departmental rules violations. He emphasized the police department already “has tools in place to address this issue.”

Navarre pointed out that Toledo police were the first major law enforcement agency to start data collection more than a decade ago on traffic stops and criminal investigations where racial profiling could come into play.

“It created quite an uproar within the department,” he recalled. “I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do and we’re still doing it today. Most departments in the state are now doing it.”

The police chief also emphasized that each cruiser is equipped with audio and video recording equipment. Departmental policy requires an officer to wear a body microphone and turn on the recording equipment any time there is a traffic-related or investigatory stop made.

“If we get complaints, it’s pretty simple to investigate those complaints,” he said. “If the officers don’t do what they’re required to do, they’ll be disciplined for that.”

Navarre also pointed out the department required officers to attend an eight-hour training session on how to properly conduct traffic stops. Topics included racial profiling. He promised to repeat that training “as needed” and require new recruits to go through the session as well.

“Training and education are the keys to this problem, not threatening officers with six months in a detention facility,” said the police chief. “That’s what you’re doing by passing this ordinance and making it a first-degree misdemeanor. That will have a chilling effect.”

City council already deadlocked 6-to-6 on whether to bring an anti-Arizona immigration resolution out of committee. The racial profiling ordinance may face even more fire and brimstone from the divided Bell administration.

The Board of Community Relations wants it, the police chief is opposed, and the mayor's office wants the issue studied more before deciding whether such an ordinance is worthwhile. Stay tuned.