Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Calling All Snitches

By Ben Fulton

MARCH 2, 1998:  Faced with stagnant budgets and an epidemic of methamphetamine labs, law enforcement wants your help. They want you to cast a more critical, questioning eye on the people in your community.

Perhaps the people living next door to you fit this profile: Do they keep odd hours? Do they make money disproportionate to their occupations? Do they have "suspicious" stories about how they earn a living? Do they have "strange" visitors arriving at "unusual hours?"

These are some of the questions posed by a recent Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office advertisement in a Sunday edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. "The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office is interested in any information you may have relating to known criminal conduct or suspicious activity," the ad reads. "Do your part," the Sheriff's Office urges, and phone the information line with possible tips.

Catching criminals is certainly desirable, but the tactic is questionable, say critics. If the ad continues to run, the consequences for minorities could be especially troubling. Many Hispanics and African-Americans already know what it feels like to be mistakenly viewed as drug dealers and criminals. Hispanics especially have been the target of "profiles" used by state troopers in Southern Utah, who stop drivers they suspect might be carrying drugs north to Salt Lake City. The Hispanic community has also worked to maintain a rational dialogue with law enforcement officers eager to stem the tide of immigrant drug dealers.

"Unfortunately, much of the work against drugs is against Hispanics; sometimes with good reason, sometimes not," said Robert "Archie" Archuleta of the Utah Hispanic Association. "The police here have profiled us for a number of years, and as far as I'm concerned, profiling is racist. This new idea in their advertisement could lead to racist acts."

Rev. France Davis, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, also expressed some concern. Profiling tends to work against minorities, according to Davis. "Profiling almost always excludes the people who drew up the criteria, and it almost always includes those who did not participate in it," Davis said.

Sheriff's Lt. Dale Bullock says people are reading too much into the advertisement. It's an example of pro-active law enforcement, if you will. "It parallels community policing, which we've implemented at other levels," he said. "It was not gender or minority specific. We're targeting behavior, not race or ethnicity."

Of course, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also found the ad troubling. The Utah office of the ACLU has defended clients before in cases where people have been arrested on the basis of race or due to law enforcement profiles that include certain ethnic groups. Executive director Carol Gnade said the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office ad takes profiling one step further in asking neighbors to tell on neighbors.

"It will polarize communities, and people will be paranoid about their own activity," Gnade said.

In fact, a strange thought occurred to her one evening when she couldn't sleep: At 3 a.m. she finally went to a convenience store to buy some milk to heat up. "All of a sudden, it dawned on me that I fit this profile," she says.

Gnade and other occasional night owls won't have to worry for long, since the Sheriff's Office has decided to run the ad only once. "We run a tip line constantly," Lt. Bullock said. "This was used just to target tips at the higher echelons of crime."


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