Police target gang members with checkpoints; legality questioned
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.