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The Racial Profiling Debate

A campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has stirred debate over whether police target minority drivers in what has been called "racial profiling," or whether they're just doing their job.

The ACLU chapter has set up a hot line to encourage California motorist to report "Driving While Black" stops.

Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden told CBS News that he has experienced the problem firsthand, and says the program is necessary.

"The fact of the matter is that for many, many, many years, African-American and Latino drivers have been randomly stopped without probable cause or any legal justification," Darden says. "It is a problem. It is a problem that undermines the criminal justice system. It undermines the police effort, community efforts, and efforts that stemming crime and violence in you're community."

However, some law enforcement officials believe the campaign should instead teach the public that they are not being targeted, but treated equally under the law.

"I think it is a little bit outrageous," says Robert Scully, a former Detroit police officer who now heads the National Association of Police Organizations.

"I think what the ACLU should be doing rather than alarming the black community is educating the black or brown or minority community that being pulled over by police officers really isn't violating your civil rights if they have probable cause to do that."

Scully contends that profiles are necessary, and that the ACLU's program distorts the techniques officers must use to do their jobs.

"If you have a bank robber, a serial rapist, a murderer, you know there are profiles set up that help identify those types of people. So we can't throw profiling out altogether," Scully says. "But as far as traffic stops go the majority of time a police officer, especially if they're working the night shift, they don't know the color of the person's skin and many times the gender until they stop that car."

Scully believes that the program is based on "a couple of tragic incidents" and that the ACLU should be uniting the entire community in a discussion of the problem.

But Darden says the ACLU has only met resistance with the state government.

"We've asked the legislature to gather their information and the legislature or Gov. Pete Wilson refused to do so," he says. "If the state won't do it, then we're going to have to do it. We'll document the fact that these random, unconstitutional, unlawful stops occur and we're going to do something about it. We're going to put a stop to it."

The ACLU has thrown its support behind proposed legislation that would track race-based stops by California law enforcement. An earlier version was vetoed last year by Gov. Wilson, who said it would cost too much money. However, this year some California communities such as San Jose and San Diego are volunarily keeping track of the race of drivers their police officers stop.

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