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Toledo City Council to Consider Anti-Racial Profiling Ordinance

Reprinted with permission from El Tiempo newspaper

As Toledo City Council gets set to debate a proposed resolution opposing Arizona’s controversial immigration law, another piece of proposed legislation that would ban interfering with civil rights and prohibit racial profiling is entering that same arena. The ordinance was introduced at Tuesday afternoon’s city council meeting.

City council’s Youth Parks, Recreation, and Community Relations Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the legislation at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 6 at One Government Center. Council committee chairman Steve Steel, an at-large Democrat, is sponsoring the proposed ordinance that would only allow Toledo police to use racial profiling when investigating a crime.

Steel credited the ongoing discussions about the immigration-related resolution and a recent letter from Juanita Greene from the Board of Community Relations as the impetus for the ordinance. Lourdes Santiago, an attorney with the city law department, helped Steel craft the proposed legislation. Steel and Ms. Santiago came to the conclusion that existing civil rights laws in Toledo Municipal Code are “left wide open to interpretation.”

“I think it is important, as a community, that we explicitly state that we are a welcoming community to all the diverse constituents within our community,” said Steel. “We as a community also won’t detain or arrest people based on the notion of what they look like, but only based on having committed a crime.”

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.”

Any violation of that definition is considered the crime of “interfering with civil rights,” a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, which states that “no public servant, under color of his or her office, employment or authority, shall knowingly deprive, or conspire or attempt to deprive any person of a constitutional or statutory right.”

An existing municipal law already defines interfering with civil rights in a similar fashion, but only in generic fashion and does not address racial profiling. If council approves, that current ordinance would be repealed and replaced with the updated language.

“We have a diverse community, all of whom deserve some level of protection,” Steel explained. “Whether than’s an immigration law that tends to target Latinos, we’ve seen profiling occur when an act of terrorism happens—targeted against people of Middle Eastern descent, and the African-American community has complaints about being targeted based on their race or color. This can clarify where we stand as a community if an immigration change comes along.”

There is any exception to the proposed ordinance, which gives police officers the authority to “use profiling criteria only when engaged in an active search for an individual suspected of or witness to an offense.”

“There are times within police investigative work where an APB (all-points bulletin) is put out with a description where they are looking for a suspect,” explained Steel. “They look for that person based on criteria involving race, possibly color.”

Steel stated he looked at similar laws for communities in other states and whether they delineate racial profiling and provide exceptions to the law on behalf of police. The councilman explained that was the first concern of Ms. Santiago, a former prosecutor, to ensure there was no part of the legislation that would inhibit the ability of police to do their job. So Steel included the exception as a result.

The proposed ordinance is being labeled an “emergency” measure, meaning it would go into effect as soon as Mayor Mike Bell signs it into law. The draft language of the ordinance states the reasons as “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and property” and “to prohibit racial profiling and interfering with civil rights.”

The proposed legislation is separate from a resolution to be introduced by freshman councilman Adam Martinez in opposition to the Arizona immigration law. Martinez was set to move forward on the resolution in early June, but pulled it back to make language changes.

The resolution Martinez is sponsoring is similar to one passed last week by Lucas County Commissioners, calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to prevent the spread of state laws similar to the Arizona legislation, which requires local police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during the course of an investigation.

Martinez told El Tiempo last week that he has secured enough votes among his elected colleagues to pass the resolution, but wants to do a better job of “educating the public” on what he labeled a controversial and complicated issue before formally reintroducing it. He expects to bring back the resolution before council sometime in July.