Under New Law, Cops Have to Track Suspects' Race

UPDATE at 12:55 p.m., Monday, Oct. 5: The LAPD already tracks the race and ethnicity of people stopped by officers. More below.

Over the weekend Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that makes cops across the state track the race and ethnicity of people they stop.

The bill, AB 953, is one of the most stringent in the nation, as it requires officers to keep track of the perceived race of both traffic stop and pedestrian stop suspects. Cops will even have to write down sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, some police, used to getting their way in Sacramento, aren't happy with the law. It was opposed by the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Fraternal Order of Police.

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"If you think about it, this bill actually encourages racial profiling by requiring officers to report what they perceive to be the race, ethnicity, gender and age of the person they stopped," said Roger Mayberry, president of the fraternal order. "The information to be reported to the Attorney General's office would be based on the officer's perception and not the actual information provided by the person stopped."

The group said in a statement that the added paperwork would take "peace officers away from response, patrols and building relationships."

Under a 12-year consent decree lifted in 2013, the Los Angeles Police Department was once required by federal authorities to track race and ethnicity.

Racial profiling is still a problem in policing, even at the LAPD, where Latinos compose 40 percent of the force and whites are a minority. If you've ever been to traffic court, finding the white faces in in the crowd is hard to do. L.A. County is 27 percent white.

A 2008 Yale report on disparities in LAPD enforcement found that ...

African-Americans and Hispanics were not only more likely to be stopped by the police, but they were also more likely to be arrested when stopped. Conditional on being stopped, regressions controlling for a host of other variables showed that citywide, stopped African- Americans were 29 percent more likely than stopped whites to be arrested and that stopped Hispanics were 32 percent more likely than stopped whites to be arrested.

The ACLU of Southern California was happy about the governor's action over the weekend. The group suggested in a statement that unjust racial profiling can be the first step in the police shootings of unarmed black men, for example:

According to an independent analysis, unarmed black men are seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire nationwide. California holds the ominous record for the highest number of deaths in the country, with 149 people killed by law enforcement in the state this year. 

The new law will set up an advisory board to analyze the race data and come up with recommendations if departments have issues with racial profiling.

"AB 953 will be the state’s first step toward not only understanding the problem of racial profiling, but also toward formulating policies to reduce the practice and its devastating consequences," said its author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

UPDATE at 12:55 p.m., Monday, Oct. 5: LAPD Commander Andrew Smith tells us the department's officers continue to track the race and ethnicity of people stopped by cops on sidewalks and in traffic.


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