508 – Bias-Based Profiling

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Purpose

This policy states unequivocally that law enforcement activities that are the result of bias-based profiling are not condoned, are unacceptable, and will not be tolerated by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Bias-based profiling is unethical and illegal and serves to foster distrust of law enforcement by the community we serve. This policy serves as guidelines for HCSO personnel to prevent such occurrences and to protect our personnel, when they act within the provisions of the law and this policy, from unwarranted accusations. [CALEA Standard 1.2.9]

Policy

The HCSO shall patrol in a proactive manner, aggressively investigate suspicious persons and circumstances, and actively enforce the motor vehicle laws while insisting that citizens will only be stopped or detained when there exists reasonable suspicion to believe that they have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a violation of the law. The HCSO shall protect the fundamental rights of all citizens to equal protection under the law and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as provided in the United States Constitution.

Definitions

Bias-based Profiling: The selection of persons based solely on a trait common to a group for enforcement action. This includes, but is not limited to: race, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age, cultural group, or any other identifiable group.

Enforcement Activities: Activities both on- and off-duty undertaken by HCSO personnel that arise from their authority related to employment, oath of office, state statute, federal law, or county ordinance; activities such as: traffic contacts, field contacts, arrests, investigations, asset seizure and forfeiture, and general law enforcement contact with citizens.

Reasonable Suspicion: Suspicion that is more than a mere hunch based on a set of particular facts and circumstances that would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that a violation of the law has been committed, is about to be committed, or is in the process of being committed by the person or persons under suspicion. This information can be based on observations, training and experience, and reliable information received from credible outside sources.

Procedure

Traffic and Field Contacts

For every traffic stop or field contact, the deputy will notify the Communications Division, and a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) entry will be generated. Traffic and field contacts between deputies and citizens will be conducted in a professional and courteous manner. Basic interpersonal communication protocol is as follows:

  1. Greet the person contacted in a respectful manner, and identify yourself.
  2. State the reason for the traffic stop or temporary detention, focusing on the actions of the vehicle or circumstances rather than personalizing the violation.
  3. Ask the person if there was a reason for the violation, giving him or her the opportunity to establish a dialogue.
  4. Politely ask for identification and other required documents.
  5. Inform the driver or pedestrian as to what action is being taken and what actions, if any, the person must perform as a result of the enforcement action.
  6. Give a professional closing statement to end the contact. Refrain from using trite or colloquial expressions.
  7. Appropriate enforcement action should always be completed and documented, generally in the form of a written warning, citation, field interrogation card, or an arrest.

When enforcement action is taken, the appropriate HCSO documentation will be completed as required by the specific type of enforcement action and the guiding written directives pertaining to such enforcement action. All enforcement action documentation will include the gender and race or ethnicity of the person stopped or contacted if this information can reasonably be ascertained by physical appearance or from the driver’s license or other documents provided by the person.

No motorist, once cited or warned, will be detained beyond the point where there exists no reasonable suspicion of further criminal activity.

No person or vehicle will be searched in the absence of a search warrant, or a legally recognized exception to the search warrant requirement, or the person’s voluntary consent. Specific guidance pertaining to searches of vehicles, persons, or structures is provided in search procedures and arrest procedures.

In the absence of a specific, credible report containing a physical or vehicle description, a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any combination of these will not be a factor in determining probable cause for an arrest or reasonable suspicion for a stop.

The deliberate recording of any misleading information related to the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation of a person stopped for investigative or enforcement purposes is prohibited and is a cause for disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

Investigations

Criminal profiling in itself can be a useful tool to assist law enforcement officers in carrying out their duties to include the investigation of criminal activity and subsequent arrest and asset seizure and forfeiture efforts. Bias-based profiling, however, is the selection of persons based solely on a common trait of a group as defined in this policy.

The HCSO does not condone and will not allow the use of bias-based profiling in its enforcement programs to include investigations both incidental and ongoing and subsequent arrest and asset seizure and forfeiture.

HCSO personnel will focus on a person’s conduct or other specific suspect information supported by articulated facts that indicate the person has committed a crime, is about to commit a crime, or is presenting a threat to the safety of him- or herself or others.

All HCSO investigations will be carried out in accordance with established written directives.

Video Documentation Requirements

All personnel operating marked HCSO vehicles used for law enforcement purposes and equipped with a digital video camera capable of recording video and sound will adhere to the procedures in this policy.

The digital video camera will be activated prior to every traffic stop or citizen encounter to record the behavior of the vehicle or the person. The video recorder will remain activated until the person or vehicle is released. Failure to activate the video camera sound prior to the traffic stop or citizen encounter may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Bias-based Profiling Complaints

Any person may file a complaint with the HCSO if the person feels that he or she has been stopped, detained, or searched based solely on bias-based profiling.

No person will be discouraged, intimidated, or coerced against filing such a complaint, nor shall any person be discriminated against because he or she has filed such a complaint.

Any HCSO personnel contacted by a person who wishes to file such a complaint will immediately contact a supervisor, who will respond to the scene. The supervisor shall inform the complainant of the complaint process procedures and document the complaint. All complaints will be forwarded to the bureau commander, who will review and process the complaint in accordance with internal investigation procedures.

All complaints of bias-based profiling, upon conclusion, will be forwarded to the Sheriff and will contain findings, suggestions for disciplinary action, or changes in policy, training, or tactics.

Dependent on the findings of each complaint and the specific factors involved, corrective measures will be taken to remedy violations of this policy. Corrective measures may include, but are not limited to: training, counseling, policy review, and discipline up to and including termination of employment.

On an annual basis, the Internal Affairs Division will compile a statistical summary of all bias-based profiling complaints which will include the findings as to whether each case was sustained, not sustained, or exonerated. Supplemental statistical data may be obtained from a variety of sources to include the Communications Division CAD system, Bullet System, mobile data terminal (MDT) logs and inquiries, and activity reports.

This statistical summary will be made a part of the annual published summary of internal investigations provided by the Internal Affairs Division.

Supervisor Responsibilities

Division commanders will be informed of all bias-based profiling complaints involving personnel under their command.

First-line supervisors shall monitor the activities of their personnel and identify potential bias-based profiling activity.

Division commanders will conduct a quarterly review of a sampling of in-car digital video recordings of traffic stops and citizen contacts and reports generated as a result of these incidents and activities. This review will be documented and forwarded to the bureau commander with findings and recommendations.

All supervisors will be particularly alert to potential patterns and practices of their personnel that may indicate bias-based profiling and treatment of persons.

Reporting Procedures

Each division commander shall maintain a database of information collected from traffic stops where a citation is issued or an arrest made (based on the traffic stop). The data shall include:

  1. The race or ethnicity of the person detained, and
  2. Whether a search was conducted, and if so, whether the person detained consented to the search.

Effective January 31, 2002, and annually thereafter, the division commander shall submit a compilation of the data (as identified in this section) from the previous year to the bureau commander.

Effective March 1, 2003, and annually thereafter, the Sheriff will submit an annual report of information (as identified in this section) collected during the previous year to Commissioners Court. This annual report will not include information that is specific to the identity of the deputies or the citizens involved.

Training

Training related to bias-based profiling will be provided to sworn personnel in coordination with the HCSO Academy and will include TCOLE-required curriculum involving:

  • Annual legal update training,
  • Cultural diversity, and
  • Training as established by TCOLE.

Legal Reference

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 2.131 through 2.138

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009

November 18, 2009

March 9, 2012

October 9, 2012

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