Po­lice tar­get gang mem­bers with check­points; le­gal­ity ques­tioned

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS -

San Juan — For more than a year, po­lice in a South Texas town have tar­geted gang mem­bers with road­side check­points, rais­ing ques­tions of pro­fil­ing and un­rea­son­able searches.

The check­points set up pe­ri­od­i­cally by San Juan po­lice os­ten­si­bly check for in­surance, seat belts and driver’s li­censes, but Po­lice Chief Juan Gon­za­lez said they are a tool in cur­tail­ing gang ac­tiv­ity.

At the check­points, ve­hi­cles are stopped, drivers are ques­tioned and some­times asked to vol­un­tar­ily al­low po­lice to pho­to­graph their gang tat­toos. The in­for­ma­tion, once vet­ted, is added to a state gang data­base.

“I can tell you 99 per­cent of the peo­ple we stop, they ac­tu­ally tell us they’re with what­ever gang,” Gon­za­lez told The McAllen Mon­i­tor. He char­ac­ter­ized the check­points as a “non­con­ven­tional, but le­gal in­ves­tiga­tive ap­proach.”

But Joseph Martin, a lawyer with the South Texas Civil Rights Project, said the check­points raise con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions about un­rea­son­able searches and seizures.

Af­ter be­ing checked out by in­ves­ti­ga­tors, gang mem­bers’ in­for­ma­tion is added to the state’s GangS­cope data­base. The per­son’s in­for­ma­tion stays there for three to five years de­pend­ing on their fur­ther gang ac­tiv­ity, Gon­za­lez said.

Gon­za­lez has in­vited the South Texas Civil Rights Project to dis­cuss the check­points with him.

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