Report analyzes racial profiling as California seeks reform

pexels-photo-532001.jpeg

California Assembly Bill (AB) No. 953 is set to bring significant change to how law enforcement agencies in the state protect their communities. The bill came to life in July 2016 as part of the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) of 2015 and intends to “revise the definition of racial profiling to instead refer to racial or identity profiling, and make a conforming change to the prohibition against peace officers engaging in that practice.” 

AB 953 led former California Attorney General Kamala Harris to establish the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, which released it's first annual report on New Year's Day. The board reviews and analyzes data submitted by law enforcement agencies and advises the Attorney General’s Office on its findings. Ultimately, the Board’s mission is “to eliminate racial and identity profiling and improve diversity, racial, and identity sensitivity in law enforcement.” The 2018 RIPA Board’s report examines key law enforcement data, civilian complaint procedure and state and local racial & identity profiling policy.

The report begins by examining the evolution and current relationships between the community and law enforcement. What the board stresses is the existence of a fundamental mistrust between the two parties. To explain this disconnect, the report cites controversial police shooting incidents, such as the cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, where the individuals shot were unarmed men of color. 

By providing context of issues for which the board is seeking to develop solutions, the RIPA Board is able to emphasize the deep racial tensions that exist between the police and community members of color. Ultimately, their point is that racial and identity profiling is a key problem that demands attention from the state of California. However, it is by no means identified as a problem that just recently surfaced. Instead, the RIPA Board labels the issue of racial and identity profiling as an “unsavory truth” born from systematic inequality the United States was founded upon.

Evidence the RIPA Board provides to showcase their detailed findings on the status of racial and identity profiling in law enforcement include stop data and the civilian complaint policy and procedure. Stop data includes information an officer must report when stopping an individual. In addition to basic information such as the date and location of the stop, under AB 953, officers must now report their own perceptions based upon personal observations. Officers are now required to report on items such as their perceived race/ethnicity of the person stopped, perceived age of the person stopped and whether the person stopped has limited or no English fluency.

When collecting this data, officers must now provide extensive detail and reason for a stop in their reports. With more guidelines and regulations in place, the protocol officers must abide by now will function as a mechanism to counteract tendencies to profile or discriminate. It is imperative to make this process as neutral and fair as possible because routine stops are the most common interaction the public has with the police. In fact, a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that twenty-six percent of the population sixteen and older had an interaction with the police in the past twelve months, and 42 percent of those interactions were traffic stops.

The findings in this report emphasize a consistent pattern of racial disparities in the community members stopped by police. In an analysis of more than 100 million stop records conducted by Stanford University, researchers confirmed that these disparities include a wide range of considerations beyond an individual's race and ethnicity; they also included factors such as neighborhood crime rates and the racial demographics of the community in which the stop took place. These trends appeared in communities all across the nation.

What do these results and findings mean for the state of California? With the founding of the RIPA Board and AB 953, efforts across the state of California are already underway to address these inequalities and discrimination. Through the data the RIPA Board assembled and new data collection policies law enforcement agencies must adhere to under AB 953, California is positioned with the unique opportunity to unite communities and build trust between them and law enforcement agencies across the state.

Ultimately, the findings of the report indicate a path to establishing measures of accountability that will increase transparency and build trust between the California community and law enforcement – something vital for the elimination of racial and identity profiling. Although this change is starting in California, it will not end there. The policies and regulations being developed and implemented in California provide a much larger vision for America moving forward. In that sense, the practices being set has the potential to one day become the standard for all law enforcement agencies as the issue stays on the forefront of political discourse.

The video above was released along with the first annual report by the the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.