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SSP resident accuses police of racial profiling
Rosenbloom: two traffic stops were ‘bogus’/Police: stops followed regular protocol
Maryland “Lucky” Rosenbloom moved to South St. Paul this summer looking for a quiet community with a touch of the urban feel he grew up with.
So far, Rosenbloom says, it’s been “a hell of a welcome” -- he’s been stopped while driving twice in three months by South St. Paul officers, both times for minor equipment infractions.
Both times he was released without citation. Rosenbloom, a former patrol agent with the Minneapolis Park Police, says based on his past experience and his interactions with the officers, he’s convinced the main reason he was targeted wasn’t his vehicle, but the fact that he’s a black man.
“This is classic profiling,” Rosenbloom says. “Look at a person, pull him over; then when you pull him over, find something.”
Rosenbloom, 56, is the son of the late Jack “Tiger” Rosenbloom, a well-known shop owner in St. Paul’s historic Rondo neighborhood. Rosenbloom says he now suspects others may have been subjected to racial or other forms of profiling in South St. Paul, but were unaware or too intimidated to speak up.
But Rosenbloom, who served in the military police while in the Army and later as a correctional officer at the Stillwater prison, says that not’s a problem for him.
“I’ve always supported good law enforcement,” Rosenbloom says. “But I also appreciate the discipline that goes along with the power.”
However, South St. Paul Police Chief Bill Messerich says both of Rosenbloom’s stops were sparked by department protocol, not race.
“We encourage officers making traffic stops,” Messerich explains.
According to Messerich, South St. Paul patrol officers employ frequent traffic stops as a form of active policing. In most cases, Messerich says officers are able to simply advise motorists about their violations; when necessary they issue citations or take further action.
He says the stops are meant to enhance community safety, not to intimidate residents.
Messerich added that he’s talked personally with Rosenbloom about his concerns and reviewed both incidents. In the end, Messerich concluded both stops were valid and the officers handled themselves by the book.
“You can’t avoid what people perceive,” Messerich says.
‘Give me a ticket’
The first incident, according to Rosenbloom, took place in mid-September, about a block away from his home on Third Avenue South.
Rosenbloom says he was waiting to turn left at a stop sign when a squad car crossed through the intersection in front of him, then pulled over. Rosenbloom says he was instantly suspicious, but followed through with his turn. After he completed his turn, the squad’s light bar illuminated, signaling him to pull over.
Rosenbloom challenged the officer for the reason he was stopped when she approached his vehicle. When the officer told him his license plate light was out, Rosenbloom told her he believed she’d decided to stop him when she passed through the intersection -- before she could have seen the rear of his vehicle.
Rosenbloom says he then demanded a citation for the license plate light so he could take the matter to court.
“I said, ‘Give me a ticket, because your stop was bogus,’” Rosenbloom recalls.
However, the officer declined to ticket Rosenbloom and instead advised him to get the light repaired.
Messerich says he got a different impression of the exchange after talking with the officer involved. He says the officer recalled the stop vividly because Rosenbloom “came off quite strong” upon initial contact.
Messerich says the officer’s reasoning for the stop was sound, and said she wasn’t aware Rosenbloom was an African American at the time she pulled him over.
“She didn’t recall seeing who was driving the vehicle,” Messerich said.
Rosenbloom’s second encounter happened at his Third Avenue house Oct. 3. Rosenbloom was returning home at the end of the day and decided to make a pass in front of his house before turning at the end of the block, then turning again into the alley to access his garage. According to Rosenbloom, the loop is part of his nightly routine that stems from his experience in law enforcement and as a conceal-and-carry firearms instructor.
“I always drive to the front of my house just to look and make sure the door’s not kicked in,” Rosenbloom says. “That’s the way I’m trained.”
That night, however, as Rosenbloom was pulling into the garage, an officer pulled up behind him with lights flashing. Rosenbloom says the first question the officer asked him after the stop was whether he lived at the address.
“The garage door is opening and I’m pulling in and he asked me did I live there,” Rosenbloom says. “I said, ‘No, man, I just happen to have a garage door opener for every house on this street.’”
Rosenbloom says the officer said the way Rosenbloom had slowly circled the block caught his attention, particularly because of the ongoing problem with arson fires in the neighborhood.
The officer then pointed out that Rosenbloom’s license plate tabs were expired, but Rosenbloom says he believes at this point the officer was fishing for a reason to validate the stop.
Rosenbloom says he again requested the officer cite him for his offense, and again the officer declined. The fact that neither officer ticketed him after the stops signals they were unwilling to explain their actions in court, Rosenbloom argues.
“They didn’t give a ticket because they didn’t want to -- they didn’t give a ticket because I think these officers knew their stop was questionable,” he says.
But according to Messerich, there’s nothing unusual about an officer not issuing a ticket after a stop. In fact, Messerich says the vast majority of stops by his department do not result in tickets; officers instead just make drivers aware of equipment or driving violations.
“Probably in excess of 90 percent of traffic stops don’t warrant a citation,” Messerich says.
Regardless of the different interpretations, Rosenbloom says he believes it’s important for the police department to hire more minority officers to better serve the city’s changing demographics.
“Like any city, South St. Paul Police Department needs to relect its diverse populuation,” Rosenbloom says.
According to Messerich, two of his department’s 27 officers identify as minority. In regards to future hires, Messerich says the top concern for the department is the quality of the candidate.
“We’re trying to hire the best officers regardless of race or gender,” Messerich says.
No council contact
While Rosenbloom maintains that profiling was a factor in his stops, he acknowledges that city leadership might have a different view. But what he says troubles him the most is that so far, the city council hasn’t told him anything at all.
After the second traffic stop, Rosenbloom says, he sent a statement by email to Mayor Beth Baumann and the city council members explaining his belief that he’d been profiled. Rosenbloom said none of them contacted him afterward, which he says feels like a tacit endorsement of the alleged profiling.
“If I had gotten one call from the mayor, one call from the other city council members, that would have been nice,” Rosenbloom says. “But for them to not even respond, not to call (implies) ‘We support this kind of behavior -- go home, get out of our neighborhood.’”
Now Rosenbloom is considering other avenues to resolve his differences with the city, including staging a sit-in at City Hall and canvassing neighborhoods for other residents who believed they’ve been profiled. Rosenbloom has a history of political activity, having run for multiple offices including Minneapolis school board, the state Senate and U.S. Senate.
South St. Paul city council member Todd Podgorski disagrees with Rosenbloom’s assertion the city has been indifferent to his concerns. Podgorski, who works as a deputy sheriff in Ramsey County, says it was important for Chief Messerich to contact Rosenbloom first before elected officials got involved.
“We need to have a little due process for our staff and make sure things were done appropriately,” Podgorski says.
Podgorski says the city council is open to hearing residents’ concerns, saying Rosenbloom is welcome to request time at a council work session to discuss the matter, or take advantage of the citizens’ comments portions of a council meeting.
As far as Rosenbloom’s claims of racial profiling, Podgorski says it’s the first such accusation he’s heard in his time on the city council, and he does not believe it’s a problem within the South St. Paul Police Department.
“Driving while black -- DWB -- it’s not a crime in our community,” Podgorski says.
Mayor Baumann did not respond to requests for comment.
Frustration both ways
Like Podgorski, Messerich says it’s important for his department to reach out to complainants and learn the details before the council gets involved.
“Complaints come through the police department, and we handle them here,” Messerich says.
To that end, Messerich spoke with Rosenbloom by phone soon after he was made aware of the issue.
“I thought we had a great conversation,” Messerich says.
Messerich told Rosenbloom he would talk to the officers involved and give him another call afterward. According to Messerich, he made that follow-up call Oct. 10, and so far Rosenbloom has not called him back.
Messerich says he holds his officers to high standards and takes all complaints seriously, but he questions why Rosenbloom didn’t approach his department first with a formal complaint before airing his grievances publicly.
For Rosenbloom, the issue is still unfolding. He says he still hopes to make progress with the city, but his introduction to South St. Paul has left him with a bitter taste in his mouth.
“That’s the way I feel,” Rosenbloom says. “I can’t feel any other way.”
Luke Reiter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7815.