The racial frisk: profiling a concern in Utah


Asher Koles has a thin black mustache, a dark-olive complexion, and a slim build. He often drives his old Subaru Outback across long, open roads to go fishing and camping. His adventures take him to quiet and beautiful lands.

But sometimes, Koles’ adventures on the road are interrupted by the flashing lights and sirens of police cars.

Koles, a 24-year-old Salt Lake City native, said he is one of many people who are profiled by law enforcement for no reason other than the way they look. His most recent experience occurred last summer when he was driving back to Salt Lake City from a two-month trip in the Pacific Northwest.

“Cars were speeding all around me. But I was the one who got pulled over,” Koles said. “The cop walked up, stuck his head in, and started sniffing around. I said, ‘Do you smell something?’ And he wouldn’t leave me alone until I let him search my car,” Koles said.

But the officer found nothing.

“That experience pretty much sealed the deal for my eternal distrust of police officers,” Koles said. “He pulled me over for a bogus reason because my car looked dirty, I looked dirty, and I was an easy target.”

Magaly McMannis, a legal immigrant from Mexico, said she has been profiled countless times as well. A police officer once issued her a traffic ticket that indicated she was of Indian descent, McMannis said.

“I am not Indian,” Mcmannis said. “And even if I was, I don’t know why that is relevant.”

Amid immigration debates and post-9/11 distrust, racial and ethnic profiling of motorists has become a growing concern in the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, has dedicated an entire sector of programming to combat issues associated with racial and ethnic profiling, a practice that disproportionally targets people for investigation and enforcement based solely on skin color or ethnic background.

“[There are] clear and significant racial disparities in the way in which motorists are treated once they have been stopped by law enforcement”, said a national report released by the ACLU in 2007.

The report found that blacks and Latinos are three times more likely to be searched by a police officer once they are pulled over. Blacks are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to be threatened by, or to be victims of the use of force by a police officer.

“While the Department of Justice says that the higher rate of searches of blacks and Hispanics is not necessarily the result of racial bias, it begs a critical question: why are blacks and Hispanics subject to searches disproportionately?” said Dennis Parker, the director for ACLU’s national Racial Justice Project. “It’s a question that needs to be answered.”

In the last seven years, the federal government has transferred substantial responsibility for the enforcement of civil immigration laws to the state and local level, according to a national ACLU report in 2009.

Perhaps the most infamous among recent state laws to address immigration is the 287 (g) program, which allows designated officers in various state and local agencies to perform immigration law enforcement functions that would have otherwise been performed by federal government officials.

The 2009 ACLU report said that the program has been criticized for allowing and encouraging the illegal racial and ethnic profiling and harassment of both immigrants and U.S. citizens.

But Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said he will not tolerate racial and ethnic profiling in his police department.

In the 2010 U.S. Census, 22.5 percent of the population in Salt Lake City was documented as Latino and that number was nearly 31 percent in the school system, Burbank said.

“To alienate one-third of the population in Salt Lake City is ridiculous,” Burbank said. “We need the interaction and involvement of everybody.”

Burbank said he is setting the tone for his team of officers so that this problem does not take hold in his department.

“I am a very effective arm of oppression,” Burbank said. “Profiling is wrong. It is my responsibility to not allow this to happen.”

But McMannis said she has simply learned to accept the way she is perceived by certain people in the community.

“People do look at me and it does feel weird,” McMannis said. “But I have learned to not care because it is what it is, I am who I am. My dream as a girl was to live the United States, and my dream came true. That’s what is important.”

Standing against Utah’s conservativism, a few fight against HB 497


In 2011, the Utah Legislature passed a controversial bill pertaining to illegal immigration throughout the state.  In subsequent months, outcry from the Latino community and leaders around Salt Lake City, led to a court challenge against House Bill 497.

HB 497, would allow police officers to check the immigration status of most individuals they encounter, making it necessary for those of Latino background to carry their documents with them wherever they go.

And in May 2011, just after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 497, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Utah. That action suspended the bill, and Judge Clark Waddoups of U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, recently postponed the case, citing that he will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a similar bill from Arizona.

While the courts will ultimately decide the fate of HB 497, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and other opponents have urged the courts to consider the problems a bill of this nature could create for officers.

“I should not take into account who [citizens] they are, what language they speak, the color of their skin, where they might be from, and all those other things.” Burbank said.  “We all have these biases built into us. But does that hold true? Absolutely not.  And if officers start using that [biases] as a basis to make enforcement decisions, that is wrong.”

Burbank also let his thoughts be known in a Feb. 16th op-ed column in The Salt Lake Tribune, the day before Waddoups moved to suspend the bill.  Headlined “ ‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns,” Burbank pleaded for the judicial system to block HB 497.

As Burbank—2011 recipient of the Tribune’s “Person on the Year” honor, spoke the same day his column was printed, he reiterated the overriding sentiments toward  the issue. And more specifically, he addressed the influence HB 497 would have on the growing Latino community in the state of Utah.

“In Salt Lake City, last year’s census had 22.5 percent of the population being documented as being Hispanic or Latino,” Burbank said. “The school census, when you look at the enrolled children in school, that number is about 31 percent of the population.  And to alienate one-third of the population is ridiculous.”

Passing by 59-15 in the Utah House and 22-5 in the Utah Senate it was clear that lawmakers overwhelmingly supported HB 497. However– like Burbank–not all Utah leaders were on board with the controversial bill.  Rep. David Litvack D-Salt Lake City, agrees that HB 497 would only create unnecessary issues for police officers and citizens alike.

“I think it does a disservice to the entire community,” Litvack said. “You can’t resolve immigration issues through enforcement only, it’s misleading.  And as far as law enforcement, as well as the immigrant community, it puts them in a very compromising position. Law enforcement relies on a good relationship with the entire community, including the undocumented community.”

Being one of the 15 House opponents to the bill last legislative session, Litvack adamantly defended his decision to vote against a bill that many supported.

“My big concern for witnesses of crime, is how willing they will be cooperate, to speak with law enforcement if their big fear is that they’re going to be arrested or deported,” Litvack said.

And while HB 497 has clearly been met with resistance from some, in the end, the law must really be about guaranteeing the safety and rights for all those who live in the state of Utah, Burbank wrote in his guest column.

“In order to perform our job effectively, all people – including those who lack authorization to be in this country – should feel confident approaching police officers and coming forward as victims of or witnesses to crime without fear this interaction may lead to an investigation of their immigration status.”

Salt Lake City police chief, Utah representatives combat new immigration laws


What would you say if you saw the police carting off your neighbor? His only crime is that he hasn’t waded through the years of paperwork and processing in order to obtain legal citizenship in the U.S. What about a friend who gets pulled over and asked for immigration papers or proof of citizenship solely because of her skin color? Would you step up and say something then? Or by then would it already be too late?

These are the questions Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank is asking, as he fires yet another salvo in the ever increasing debate over illegal immigration in the state of Utah.

Burbank, whose infamously lenient take on illegal immigration has earned him the nickname “Sanctuary Burbank,” from opponents, said that the current proposed “solutions” for illegal immigration in Utah represent a serious threat to the civil liberties of U.S. citizens and could actually increase the crime rate of Utah should they be enacted.

“These are ridiculous laws,” Burbank said of proposed immigration laws similar to those passed in Arizona.

Arizona’s SB 1070 require police officers to actively check immigration status during legal stops, and require all aliens, legal or otherwise, to carry proper documentation of their citizenship at all times. Failure to do so could result in a misdemeanor charge.

“Any time we as a society can say one segment of our population—because of who they are, what they look like, the language they speak—is more engaged in criminal behavior [as a result]. Well that’s as racist and biased as anything I’ve ever heard,” Burbank said.

Burbank said that he believes by creating laws that target illegal immigrants, Utah will create significant problems for the community on two levels—crime increase, and the all too slippery slope of racial profiling.

“You actually increase crime when you enforce these kinds of laws,” Burbank said.

He cited the formation of the Italian Mafia as an example of racially specific profiling leading to increased crime, saying that due to the shunning of the Italian people on the East Coast, they began to look to each other for support and eventually turned to crime as an alternative to pursuing legal jobs outside of their own community.

One of Burbank’s main concerns with the proposed laws, is that the threatened deportation of illegal immigrants increases the likelihood those immigrants won’t feel comfortable reporting crimes to the police for fear of calling deportation down on themselves.

“When we have a segment of society that turns their back or says ‘We’re not going to interact with the police,’” Burbank said. “Well, the criminal element thrives.”

The other great threat Burbank believes these laws represent is that of selective racial profiling.

“We are a very effective form of oppression,” Burbank said of the dangers associated with racial profiling. “Those things [profiling] are wrong and it’s my job to prevent that from happening in my profession. I will not allow my officers to be involved in that behavior.”

Burbank isn’t the only one interested in seeing Utah’s illegal immigration status solved through non-aggressive legislation. State Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, also stated concerns similar to Burbank’s regarding an increase in crime, should these laws be enacted.

“I think that [Burbank’s view] is probably true,” Edwards said. “I’ve talked to people in law enforcement who believe that it [immigration laws] would drive people who might report crime underground.”

Not only did Edwards express concerns regarding a possible increase in crime, but also the potentially disastrous effect such laws could have on Utah’s economy, citing the numerous illegal immigrants who help maintain Utah’s farmland.

“They [immigration laws] in the end are not realistic because of the devastation to the economy and tearing families apart,” Edwards said. “If people are going to be here anyway, let’s help them to be responsible.”

Of course not everyone is satisfied with Utah’s current policies on illegal immigration such as HB116, which passed last year, allowing illegal immigrants who fulfill certain requirements to obtain jobs and in-state tuition at Utah’s public colleges and universities.

State Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, is particularly adamant about the problems that illegal immigration is causing for those waiting to immigrate to the U.S. legally.

“By us tolerating illegal immigration, we are hurting those who are waiting up to 20 years for legal immigration,” Herrod said. “Where is the compassion for those who are waiting in line? Nobody is talking about those individuals.”

Herrod, who has a number of legal immigrants in his family, including his wife, a native of Russia, supports the proposed laws that would crack down on illegal immigration. He believes that by acting as what he calls a “sanctuary state,” Utah is hurting legal immigrants as much as, if not more than, the illegals who come into the state.

“As a sanctuary state, what we’re saying is that we love illegal immigrants more than we do legal immigrants,” Herrod said. “That’s, to me, simply warped.”

With the gulf of opinion regarding illegal immigration widening with each new approach, there is at least one thing both sides of the issue agree on—obtaining legal citizenship should be easier.

“We ought to be about making the process of legal immigration easier,” Rep. Edwards said. “Right now it’s onerous, expensive, and time-consuming.”

In the end, it’s hard to say which side of the argument is correct, or if a proper solution can ever truly be enacted. According to Edwards, the problem can merely be managed and will ultimately be solved only if the government gets involved at a federal level.

“States are attempting to solve this in their own ways, but in the end it’s a federal problem,” Edwards said. “We can deal with people once they’re here in our state, but the issue of immigration is a federal one.”

HB 497: The long arm of the law overstretched


The Salt Lake City Police Chief spoke to a group of students at the University of Utah about topics ranging from gangs to his stance on HB 497, a harsh anti-immigration bill he views as ripe for encouraging the practice of racial profiling.

Chris Burbank, 46, has been a vocal opponent of Utah’s house bill since the Legislature passed it in 2011. On the same day that he spoke at the U, The Salt Lake Tribune published an op-ed piece written by Burbank titled, “‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns.

“I don’t believe officers should be cross-deputized [as immigration agents],” Burbank said. “It’s not our role.”

HB497 hasn’t yet gone into effect because its constitutionality has been challenged by the United States. The measure essentially allows local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of any individual they deem to be “reasonably suspicious.”

The broad language in the bill has been the source of concerns from Burbank and the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A pamphlet distributed by the ACLU of Utah called FAQ 497 reads:

How does HB 497 cause racial profiling?

The “reasonable suspicion” language of the law will allow and invite law officers to second-guess a person’s immigration status based on stereotypes, i.e., race, ethnicity, or accent. Demanding “papers” based on a person’s appearance is not “reasonable” and is not constitutional.

The law forces officers to push bias into their work, Burbank said.

During his presentation at the U, Burbank used students from the audience to illustrate how laws like HB 497 could impact minorities.

Burbank’s lined up two Caucasians, an African-American, an Asian-American and a Mexican-American. He then asked the rest of the students who among the lineup were the most likely to be questioned about their nationality.

Before the audience could speak up, Burbank grabbed the Mexican-American and Asian-American students and asked them to prove they are citizens of the United States.

“I won’t allow my officers to be engaged in those kinds of behaviors. I don’t care what the laws are that they’re trying to put into place,” Burbank said.

His stance on immigration enforcement has ruffled more than a few feathers among lawmakers. Some have even gone so far as nicknaming Salt Lake City, “Sanctuary Burbank.”

“They’re wrong and inject bias into what we do. And so that’s why I stood up and said, ‘hey, not going to do it,’” Burbank said. “And I will continue to fight that fight.”

Peter Vu, a second generation Vietnamese-American born and raised in Orem, said that if such stringent immigration laws were to take effect in his home state, he worries his parents would be targeted by police officers.

“I mean, they’re naturalized citizens and everything. I don’t think they should have to go around carrying papers to prove that,” Vu said.

Vu, who worked at a grocery store in Salt Lake City that catered to the Asian community, said he thinks there are better ways to curb illegal immigration than what’s been proposed in HB 497.

At a bakery in Draper, Vu discussed the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act with his co-worker, Joe Fleming. Fleming is a transplant from Arizona, a state that passed the equally controversial SB 1070 in 2010. Utah, in fact, modeled its legislation after the Arizona statute.

Fleming’s father is Caucasian and his mother is of Mexican descent. While he worries about his mother being racially profiled by police in Arizona, Fleming also sees the need to bolster immigration enforcement.

“I understand where they’re coming from but what’s out there now probably isn’t the right way,” Fleming said.

In southern Arizona, where Fleming grew up on a large plot of land, he and his family had to deal with migrants using their property as a pit stop.

“We would always find trash and stuff at the spots where they camped,” Fleming said. “My sister was afraid to go out to the barn by herself at night.”

At the end of their conversation, both Fleming and Vu agreed that something has to be done to shore up the borders, but allowing police officers to ask people for proof of citizenship when there’s a “reasonable suspicion” is not the answer.

They both echoed Burbank’s sentiment.

“These are ridiculous laws and this is exactly what it is,” Burbank said.

Got the chops to be a cop?


Becoming a police officer is a process, and those who are thinking about embarking on the journey should know what they are getting into.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank spent 15 years as an officer on the force before becoming the capital city’s police chief.

He won the 2011 award for “Utahn of the Year” from The Salt Lake Tribune, and has been trying to take positive steps with the police department since he became chief.

Burbank has said that, “Police officers jobs are to prevent crimes from occurring.” The question is how does one get to be in position to even become a cop?

It all starts with tests and training.

The National Police Officer Selection Test (NPOST) is the first test that prospective police officers must take. Reading comprehension, vocabulary, memory recall and math are a few of the test areas.

A high score in the NPOST gives police departments an indicator of the subject’s potential because the test asks questions that are relevant to skills a police cadet will learn at the academy.

High test scores give the police department an incentive on taking them in for more training or sending them to the Police Academy.

A series of physical examinations comes next. Potential employers can determine what kind of shape the applicants are in.

These tests include how many push-ups and sit-ups an applicant can do in one minute, as well as how fast he or she can run a mile.

If the subject passes these tests with high scores, a background check comes next. Tests in this section include a lie detector exam, a drug screening and a psychiatric evaluation.

All in all, the entire police officer (training regimen) can take up to six months. Those who are not ready for such a strenuous experience are likely to fail early in the process.

Former University of Utah student Jesse Wood, 21, has been thinking about becoming a police officer since he was in high school.

“I was never set on what I wanted to do as far as a career or life plan, but I can always remember considering becoming a cop,” Wood said.

A profession that requires its employees to have a gun strapped to a hip for the entire day is anything but a safe job, but Wood isn’t thinking of future employment in terms of its safety factor.

“Is the job potentially dangerous? It absolutely is. But walking across the street is dangerous in its own way. It’s really not about if I can get killed, but more about if I can make a positive impact on society.”

The opportunity to change the world around him drives Wood toward becoming a police officer.

Yuki Leavitt, on the other hand, has considered being a cop because of the heroism that comes with the title. Leavitt’s catch is that he doesn’t know if being a hero is worth hours and hours of work it takes to get there.

“I’m a college student and as much as I’d like what comes along with the title of becoming a police officer, I just don’t know if I have the time,” the 21-year-old Leavitt said.

“Becoming a cop is not as simple as filling out an application and handing it in to see if you got the job. There is test after test. I have plenty of tests I’m taking in school right now.”

Burbank has been close and personal with danger multiple times in his career. While he says that most officers will never be put in a situation where they must use their firearm, he also knows that moment may always present itself.

“I’ve never shot anybody,” Burbank said, “I’ve been involved in 13 separate incidents where I could have used deadly force by the statute and been OK under the law, but have not.”

Burbank believes there might even be a danger in using a firearm in the line of duty.

“The majority of law enforcement officers that discharge their gun in the line of duty don’t last beyond five years after doing so. They change their mind and they leave the profession.”

Your Community Is Safe

By Jason Nowa

Being there for each other in a community can be burdensome for families trying to live in a safe environment. With Utah’s ever growing population there is more criminal activity throughout the years, and families tend to lean upon the local police for safety. This can be a constant concern for worried citizens. Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank (Voices of Utah) says “We are here for you. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

Burbank spoke recently to students at the University of Utah about the Salt Lake Police Department and the efforts his officers put forth to keep the state’s largest city safe.

Burbank, 46, has been on the force nearly half of his life, or 21 years on the job.

Burbank emphasized the need for the eyes and ears of all Salt Lake City residents in fighting crime. Last year alone there were 12,000 burglaries, he said. There are only so many police officers to go around, but, he said, many more citizens are able to see and report criminal activity. Everyone in a community can be a watchdog.

“Our role is to prevent crime,” Burbank said. “ We can only truly prevent crime when the community helps us and gives us a call.”

Communication skills can help descalate a tense situation very quickly if an officer can get into the mind of an individual. In spite of stereotypes from TV cop shows, most real police officers will never fire a service revolver in the line of duty, Burbank said.  The chief’s philosophy is to calm a difficult disturbance in various ways before ever thinking of drawing a weapon. In an unruly crowd, for instance, popular wisdom might demand police put on riot gear and use mace at any sign of danger. Burbank said the use of these measures at first puts on a defensive tactic and might quickly enrage an already excited crowd.

“Pepper spray is a use of force. There are other ways to calm a conflict,” he said.

He wants to remember to observe every person’s constitutional rights and the ability to voice opinions. Burbank’s approach would be to first have a conversation with people to help them, followed by telling them their options and then to put into action the safest decision possible.

Burbank said there is gang violence (Voices of Utah) in the Salt Lake area, mostly in Glendale and West Valley City. There are about 5 officer shootings a year. The law defines a gang as two or more people gathered and involved in criminal activity. Burbank said the majority of officers involved with shooting someone usually don’t last beyond five years on the job after an incident.

The gang violence in Salt Lake has become more silent in recent years with gangs staying off the police radar and drug dealing mostly. During his tenor he said the biggest gang he had to deal with was a Tongan Crip gang in Glendale but they are mostly nonexistent nowadays. Anybody that is involved in any way with gang activity whether they commit an actual crime or not are considered suspects and will be jailed for whatever involvement they have. Burbank emphasized this would help crack down on the friends who are just along for the joy ride.

Ethical dilemmas occur daily as Burbank emphasized, “We are part of the community, and we work for the public. And my responsibility is to not allow racial stereotyping. I will not allow my officers to act as such.”

Salt Lake Police officer in charge of Public Relations, Cary Wichmann, mentioned that police officers jobs are very serious in nature and that any help the community can ever provide is helpful information.

The Metro Gang Unit (Voices of Utah) was created to establish identity, control, and prevent criminal gang activity. This force provides data and assistance to all law enforcement agencies. This unit also provides helpful information for youth on alternatives to being involved in a gang, and provides education for the public about the destructiveness of the gang lifestyle.

The Metro Gang Unit works in part with the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.

The UPD is a helpful specialized force that serves various communities within suburban Salt Lake. These participating cities share the costs with neighboring communities which save local governments and reduce the tax burdens of citizens. The pool of services that the UPD provides is SWAT, forensics, records, dispatches, K-9, and media services.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is the CEO of the UPD. Winder oversees local precincts but that each precinct has their own commander which was chosen by the given city. Commanders are those who run the precincts and have authority over traffic, patrol, and crossing guards. Winder explained the organization of the UPD. Eight elected officials from participating communities serve as the Board of Directors over the UPD. They oversee global and local policies along with operational, budgetary, and human resource issues.

The Executive Management has Winder as the county sheriff serving as CEO. There are also financial and human resource management advisers. The various communities have joined together to have the UPD serve their cities. Operational and cost efficiencies are achieved by the sharing of resources that ordinarily wouldn’t be fully utilized by a single community.

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