Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, told fellow lawmakers Monday the state's study of racial profiling shows police in Nevada's major cities have a serious problem, which he believes criminal penalties would help fix.
Neal introduced SB20 after a study was released showing blacks and Hispanics are stopped twice as often as their percentage membership in the population and handcuffed far more often than whites who are stopped.
"Blacks and Hispanics are being stopped more frequently and being handcuffed more frequently," he told the Senate Government Affairs Committee. And he said he can't believe officers have probable cause in all those cases.
But police groups testified they think the possibility of criminal penalties would have a "chilling effect" on street cops, preventing them from doing their job properly.
Ron Dreher of the Peace Officers Association of Nevada told lawmakers "criminal profiling" is what a well-trained, good police officer does -- that he or she is paid to spot things that indicate criminal activity. He denied there is a problem with racial profiling in Nevada law enforcement.
"It is good police practice to profile," said Mike Gillens of the conference of police and sheriffs.
Other speakers criticized the proposal, saying they believe it would be nearly impossible to prove racial profiling by an officer and that the law would only generate numerous complaints that forced good officers to be put on administrative leave while they were investigated.
And several testified they know of almost no instances of officers racially profiling in their selection of people to stop and question.
"The sheriff says it's not happening," said Neal. "But I beg to differ."
"Blacks and Hispanics are no less citizens than anyone else," he said. "They should not be stopped because of who they are. When you have almost double your population of blacks being stopped, something is wrong with that.
Neal told the committee the military looks at people as groups of enemies or suspects in a situation, but that police cannot be allowed to do that.
"The policeman has a constitutional duty to distinguish between individuals," he said.
The committee took no action on the legislation.