LOS ANGELES - Community leaders and groups today unveiled an unprecedented level of support for a new racial profiling data collection bill, AB 788, introduced by Assemblymember Marco Firebaugh. The bill requires data collection on traffic stops and establishes a strong statutory definition of racial profiling to enable law enforcement agencies and communities to combat the problem effectively. Today was the deadline for groups to list their support or opposition to the bill for its first hearing. More than seventy community organizations and civil rights groups across the state have submitted their endorsements to the Public Safety Committee - far more endorsements than a typical bill -- an indication that last year's efforts built momentum on this issue and that communities have quickly lined up to make this a top civil rights priority again this year.

"The time has come to end practices that criminalize our communities," said Angela Sanbrano Executive Director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). "Passage of AB 788 is a step in that direction."

Communities targeted with racial profiling know that the problem pervades law enforcement in this state. According to recent surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California, 82% of African American Californians believe that the problem not only exists, but that it's widespread. 65% of Latino Californians share that view, as does a majority of Asian Americans. 72% of young African American men in a Gallup poll reported experiencing this pernicious practice.

Civil rights organizations including MALDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., LULAC, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Central American Resource Center, the ACLU affiliates of Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego, and over sixty other groups have joined in the effort to support AB 788.

"For decades people of color have complained that racial profiling is a serious problem in the State, but little has been done to address it," said Assemblymember Firebaugh. "AB 788 prohibits racial profiling and defines it as the practice of the use of race; 'in any fashion' and 'to any degree' by law enforcement, except when officers are on the look out for a specific suspect identified in part by race. We hope that our continuous demand for change will not go unheard."

Eight other states have passed bills requiring data collection on racial profiling in traffic stops, five of them states with Republican Governors, and the conservative Texas legislature has just passed such a measure. California has had several opportunities to enact such a law, but has failed to do so. The groups promised that this year would be different.

"This is a moderate measure that's all about basic fairness," said Isabelle Gunning, ACLU of Southern California Board Member. "California is behind the curve and hasn't yet taken the problem seriously."

"Data collection and a strong statutory definition are the keys to this problem," said Gunning. "Without information or a strong definition, California communities and their law enforcement officers cannot tackle this pernicious practice, cannot establish new and better standards of policing, and cannot design or measure effective training programs that will remove bias from policing."

Victor Narro, Workers' Rights Project Director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), pointed out that the definition of racial profiling proposed in the bill, which defines racial profiling as using race "in any fashion" or "to any degree" in determining whom to stop, will make a significant difference to law enforcement agencies as they train their officers not to practice racial profiling.

"Many law enforcement agencies rely on a definition of racial profiling which is deficient," said Narro. "That definition says that race may not be the "sole" reason for a stop, but we all know how thick the California Vehicle Code is and how easy it is for an officer to find a reason in addition to race to pull a person over. A cracked taillight, for instance, could be cited as a reason. We want to root out that kind of selective use of the law, and that's why a strong, clear definition is necessary."

In addition to requiring data collection on the race or ethnicity of the motorist, the bill requires police officers to list the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, and whether a citation was issued - all of which are areas in which motorists of color have reported differential treatment.

The bill also requires any local agencies that receive state money for their data collection efforts to conform to the same standard of data collection, collecting information on all five key categories listed above.

AB 788 will be heard before the Assembly's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 17.