Arizona motorcycle laws: Bikers jam Capitol for profiling bill hearing

PHOENIX - A hearing room filled with patch-wearing motorcycle club members broke out in cheers Wednesday as an Arizona Senate committee passed a bill requiring police to take training highlighting a ban on profiling of motorcyclists by law enforcement officers.

The unusual sight at the state Capitol was prompted by a bill attempting to address complaints from motorcycle club members who say they're frequently stopped by police for no legitimate reason. Republican Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City West is the sponsor.

Ken Mei of Phoenix, president of the local chapter of the Peckerwoods Motorcycle Club, said the treatment he and his fellow members receive from police makes it obvious they're being singled out.

"The other day me and a friend of mine were out riding our motorcycles, and we got pulled over by a highway patrolmen, two city (of) Phoenix policemen and a helicopter," Mei said after the hearing ended. "We didn't receive any citations, anything. They basically wanted to know about our patches."

That kind of story was heard repeatedly during the hearing before the Senate public safety committee, said Sen. Chester Crandell, the chairman. The bill passed 4-0, with the three Democratic members absent, but Crandell warned the cheering bikers that the bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law and needs major changes.

The executive director of the state board that certifies police officers complained that the bill would make it more difficult to train officers.

"It prohibits law enforcement action in certain situations," said Lyle Mann of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, known as AzPOST. He said officers are trained to take action based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause from a totality of the situation, and writing a hard and fast rule is not workable.

Crandell agreed that there's "probably a little profiling" but said what's being proposed now is a work in progress, although the testimony from both the bikers and Mann raised important points.

"You may be just as innocent as can be, but when you look the part of what's in the training manual that's associated with gangs, motorcycle gangs, Hells Angels, when  you look that part there's a fine line," Crandell said. "I certainly don't want to limit AzPOST on how they're looking for the bad element, but I also understand where these guys are coming from."

The bill would require AzPOST to include courses emphasizing the prohibition against stopping a biker for riding or wearing club colors, or questioning or searching them based only on those factors. Republican Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City West is the sponsor.

For Rick Rodriguez of Glendale, a member of the ALMA Motorcycle Club, changes can't happen soon enough. He said harassment of patch-wearing bikers by police is rampant.

"We feel that it's a target for them, basically," Rodriguez said. "If they see a patch, and you're riding down the road, they pull you over for any kind of reason with no probable cause whatsoever. It's very demeaning at times, women are frisked for no reason, you're detained in 115 degree weather for an hour and then let go and not even given a reason why you were pulled over."

Rodriguez acknowledged that many police and citizens associate club members with criminals, but he said police can't just slap a label on people because they're riding a bike and wearing club colors.

"It's not illegal to be an Elk, it's not illegal to be an Eagle, it's not illegal to be a Shriner, a Knight of Columbus," he said. "We wear collective marks, we ride motorcycles, that's what we like to do. I understand the average Joe citizen doesn't feel our plight. But when they get done with bikers, who are they going to pick on next?"

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