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Cops make list of "future criminals"

September 6, 2002 | Page 2

IT SOUNDS like something out of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report--having your name put in a database of "future criminals." But that's exactly what's going on in Wilmington, Del.

Last week, the city's police department announced that it had compiled a list of people that cops think might be "likely to break the law" at some point. According to Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba, the database came about after two Wilmington police squads created in June to arrest low-level drug dealers decided to "save" pictures of at least 200 people who weren't arrested for any crimes.

Police didn't say what qualifies someone for the list. But they did reveal that the majority of people who've made it are--surprise, surprise--young Black and Latino men from poor neighborhoods. According to the Delaware News Journal, the two police squads are known in some Wilmington neighborhoods as "jump-out squads"--because the cops burst out of marked and unmarked vehicles and make arrests in seconds.

On one shift this month, officers apparently told one group of men that they were breaking the city's loitering laws and could be arrested on the spot. Then they took down the men's names and addresses and snapped their pictures before letting them go.

"They jump out on whoever they want, whenever and wherever," resident Victor Valdez told the News Journal. "If they stop someone, and it turns out they don't have drugs or a gun, what's the point of taking their picture?"

The point is that Wilmington cops gain another person to pin a crime on. Chief Szczerba told reporters that the police department plans on using the photos in "future photo line ups"--an open invitation to racial profiling and scapegoating.

But Wilmington Mayor James Baker doesn't see anything wrong with the practice. "Good little kiddies in the wrong place at the wrong time are not getting their picture taken," Baker ranted. "I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks. Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional, it's constitutional."

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