Calif. Police Chief: Racial Profiling ‘Ineffective,’ ‘Insulting,’ and 'Didn't Work'

By Melanie Arter | April 19, 2012 | 1:21 PM EDT

Police Chief Ronald Davis of Palo Alto, Calif. testified before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on race on Tuesday ( Starr)

( Ronald Davis, police chief for Palo Alto, Calif., told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on Tuesday, that racial profiling was “ineffective,” "insulting," and "just didn't work."

Davis said he came to this conclusion while conducting surveillance of drug couriers in California.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Davis, “Under what circumstances have you profiled, and if you could talk a little bit more about what limiting principles you think should apply to profiling when it is used legitimately if it can be used legitimately in your view?”

Davis said as a police officer in Oakland, he used racial profiling when identifying white customers of drug dealers.

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“And this area was actually, it was accessible to the freeway, so we had customers from out of town coming in to buy narcotics, and quite often they were actually white. And so the presumption on my part and many others [was] that any white person in that neighborhood would then be buying narcotics,” Davis said.

“The problem with that assessment--one, it attaches a criminality to the entire neighborhood so that the only way that neighborhood could be judged is based on the actions of a few, which means you’re criminalizing everyone that lives there. And two, that also suggests that the only reason why a white person would visit someone black is to buy drugs,” Davis added.

Not only was his use of racial profiling “ineffective,” it was “insulting to the neighborhood,” and “it just did not work,” he said.

“So, as we got better and moved on, we learned how to watch behaviors. Now someone leaning in a car, someone exchanging money, somebody yelling signals that a drug buy was about to take place or that the police officers were coming works a lot better, doing proper investigations,” Davis said.

Davis said profiling “under the category of criminal profiling” would work “when you’re looking at behavioral aspects of what a person is doing.”

“In other words … people that when they’re selling drugs they engage in certain behaviors--whether it is how they drive, whether it is furtive movements in a car--something that would be specific to their actions,” he said.

“I cannot think of any context in which race is appropriate other than when you’re describing someone that’s committed a crime, and in fact, Senator, I would say that, what race ends up doing is being a huge distractor. So now we’ve seen this time and time again,” Davis said.

“We did Operation Pipeline in California, where we targeted so-called drug couriers, and we basically did not get what we were looking for, because we were so busy looking for black or brown people driving on a freeway. And we’re proven wrong time and time again, and we lose the support of our community,” he added.

Davis said as officers are expected to “assess race.”

“And if I may, I guess one of the questions that came up earlier was also about officers guessing on race. And if I can say it’s really interesting because we’re supposed to assess race,” Davis said.

“And so the idea, I don’t think we’re suggesting that race has no place, so if something comes out on the radio that you’re looking for a black male, 6 foot tall, 225 pounds and very handsome that did a robbery, then it would make a lot of sense that you would stop me. I could understand that,” he said.