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February 8-14, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Déjà Vu For Davis

The NAACP has raised a lot of eyebrows recently with allegations that San Jose police are targeting African American club-goers downtown. Through it all though, Chief Rob Davis has denied that his officers have engaged in profiling. Turns out this isn't the first time the question of profiling in traffic stops has given the department—or Davis—trouble. In 1999, before he was the city's top cop, Davis began a "vehicle stop demographic study" under then-Chief William Lansdowne in response to community complaints that minorities were being pulled over because of visible ethnic characteristics. He reasoned that solid statistics would provide the best answer. He was right—but it wasn't the answer he was looking for. The initial results of the ongoing study, released in 1999, showed that African Americans accounted for 7 percent of the motorists pulled over in a three-month period. Those numbers set off some alarms, but they didn't look quite as bad when Davis used 1990 census data and growth rates to estimate that African Americans made up 4.5 percent of the city's population. But when Fly went back to look at the census numbers that came out just a year later, it was clear the math didn't hold up: the 2000 census showed that African Americans made up only 2.5 percent of the population—revealing a gap in the traffic-stop percentages much greater than Davis' guess suggested. Fly found an even bigger error in its review of the numbers for Latinos, a group that accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the vehicle stops back in '99. Davis had estimated that they made up 31 percent of the San Jose population, but 2000 census data showed the real percentage was only 24. The numbers for the non-Latino white population were right: roughly 44 percent of the city and 29 percent of vehicle stops.

More Fun With Math

Davis' numbers from 1999 may be even more problematic in light of signs that the number of police stops dropped by about 10 percent the year the study started. Gary Wood and Gertrude Welch remember Chief Lansdowne telling this to Santa Clara County's Justice Review Committee during a 1999 presentation. An online interview with SJPD officer Dario Estrabao (conducted by the local union) hints at the same phenomenon. Estrabao says he was told that the department made 10,000 fewer car stops that year because officers were being "more selective." "Please don't feed us that line of BS," Estrabao responded. "We know the real reasons for the drop in productivity." Davis told Metro this comment doesn't represent the views of the department. He said he doesn't remember if the number of stops decreased when the study started, but if so, it could have been because there were fewer cops on patrol.

Target Audience

If there's one group you'd think might especially benefit from the Merc's recent investigative series on problems in the local criminal justice system, it'd be—oh, Fly doesn't know ... someone in jail, maybe? So we thought we'd point out one important oversight to the people in charge of Merc subscriptions: inmates at the Santa Clara County Jails aren't getting your paper anymore! Fly heard from the Public Interest Law Firm attorney that three of their in-custody clients stopped receiving the Merc at about the same time the series came out. Department of Corrections spokesman Mark Cursi confirmed that the agency canceled subscriptions last week because the daily raised its rates from 11 cents to 40 cents per paper. With 358 papers delivered every day, this amounted to over $50,000 a year at the higher price (which would have come out of the Inmate Welfare Fund). A Merc circulation manager did not return Metro's phone calls by presstime. Cursi said the DOC is in the process of switching over to the San Francisco Chronicle because it would get the papers for free through an educational program.

Star Power

Actor Kyle MacLachlan waltzed in 15 minutes late to a local forum on his new TV series In Justice. "Sorry," one of his escorts explained to a roomful of anxious Santa Clara University students. "We had to drag a movie star across campus." The sleek MacLachlan, clad in blue jeans and a black blazer, isn't the actor most film fans would expect to have a bright and shiny social conscience, especially if they watched him become almost famous in Dune, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Sex and the City. He actually looked intellectual at last week's event, hosted by SCU's Innocence Project, a real-life collaborative of investigators and law students that helps exonerate wrongfully convicted criminals. MacLachlan plays a lawyer on In Justice who does the same thing—only in 43 minutes of airtime. "We want to see what the real deal is," said the actor, who had come to Santa Clara with one of the show's writers. "It's so important that we do it right." While MacLachlan's fame probably accounted for the full house (people were flowing out into the hallway), he shared the spotlight with three recently exonerated California prisoners. Gloria Killian, John Stoll and Rick Walker served 17, 20 and 12 years for crimes they did not commit. A Santa Clara County district attorney prosecuted Walker, of East Palo Alto, in 1991 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Cupertino. He was set free in 2003 after a private investigation revealed witnesses and biological evidence proving his innocence. "This show opens people's eyes and minds even though it's fictional," Walker said about In Justice. "I think it's a breakthrough." MacLachlan's charm helped smooth over some of the more serious tones of the forum. "Your passion is so infectious," he told the crowd of young people (who responded with applause). "I'm going to pass it on to my cast mates."

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