California’s Racial Identity Profiling and Advisory Board released its annual report on police stops to kick off the new year and it had some big takeaways about policing during the pandemic.
The report was compiled from data collected from 18 law enforcement agencies between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020. Fifteen of those law enforcement agencies are among the largest in California. In total, the board collected data on nearly 3 million vehicle and pedestrian stops.
Also, it’s important to understand that when the term “stop” is used by the RIPA board it means the individual was either searched or detained. That means the red flags the report raises may be further compounded by general traffic stops, not to mention all that data from additional law enforcement agencies that were not included in the data set.
The report’s authors note the holes in the data set will be fixed next year when all state law enforcement agencies will be mandated to collect the data. Then, in 2024, we’ll have the clearest picture yet of disparities in policing in California. To make up for the current holes in the data, the RIPA board uses the United States Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey estimates in a weighted method “intended to display a distribution more reflective of just the areas served by the agencies that collected RIPA data in 2020, rather than the state as a whole.”
Steven Raphael is co-chair of the RIPA Board and Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.
“The data collection effort has been building towards and will soon achieve universal reporting of stops, uses of force, and civilian complaints from all law enforcement agencies in the state, setting a new national standard for transparency,” Raphael noted on the report’s release last week. “The analysis in this year’s report breaks new ground on the experiences with law enforcement of those with mental and physical disabilities, the experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to the detailed analysis of stop outcomes by race, ethnicity, and gender contained in past reports.”
With the past few years in criminal justice reform being a bit choppy, Raphael believes the RIPA report to be an important tool for moving forward.
“The data in this and future reports is critical to fostering dialogue between California residents and law enforcement and will also inform policy devoted to ensuring fair and bias-free policing practices,” Raphael said. “I am grateful for the tireless work of the DOJ legal and research staff as well as for the efforts and dedication of fellow board members and members of the public who participate in our meetings throughout the year.”
The first big takeaway from the report was that the number of stops dropped by over a million from 4 million to 2.9 million. This amounts to a drop of 26.5% and there’s general agreement that it’s probably because the world was closed for much of 2020. The California Highway Patrol was responsible for 57.7% of the stops in the data set.
Both the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff are two of the organizations included in the report. Stops by the LAPD were down nearly 200,000 in 2020, going from 712,807 in 2019 to 521,426. The drop from 2019 to 2020 was nearly identical to the statewide percental drop.
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department saw nearly twice the dip in stops of their LAPD counterparts. The Sheriffs Department went from 196,850 stops in 2019 to 104,275 in 2020. That equals a 47% dip.
San Diego PD and the San Bernadino County Sheriffs Office followed CHP and LAPD on the list with the LASD rounding out the five agencies with the most stops in 2020.
As for the racial breakdown, 40.4% of the people stopped by the 18 law enforcement agencies were perceived by the officers to be Hispanic. They accounted for 1,187,728 stops. The next largest group was perceived to be White by officers and made up 31.7 percent of the data and 929,766 stops. African Americans accounted for 484,364 stops making up 16.5% of the total. The remainder of the stops were Asian (5.2%; 151,813), Middle Eastern/South Asian (4.7%; 136,806), Multiracial (0.9%; 25,777), Pacific Islander (0.5%; 15,292), and Native American (0.2%; 6,105).
Some of the other takeaways from the race-specific data in the set include the search rate of Black individuals, which was 2.4 times the search rate of White individuals. Officers searched 18,777 more Black individuals than White individuals, force was used against Black individuals 2.6 times more than Whites, and officers reported that they took no action against the Black individuals they stopped at a rate of 2.3 times that of Whites stopped.
Other disparities were specific to sexual orientation. Transgender women/girls were searched at a rate 2.5 times that of individuals perceived to be cisgender females. While a lower disparity, transgender men/boys were searched in 2020 at a rate 1.4 times the rate individuals perceived to be cisgender males were.
William Armaline is one of the RIPA board’s newest members and additionally serves as the director of San Jose State University’s Human Rights Institute. He’s also an Associate Professor in the school’s Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.
“First of all, I think we should be extremely happy and sort of proud that by 2023 we’re going to have universal reporting on this stuff,” Armaline told L.A. Weekly. “I think it’s a pretty big thing that I don’t want to get lost in the mix of the findings.”
Armaline believes it can’t be emphasized enough what a massive step forward this is for people working in criminal justice reform, even if there is plenty of work to be done as voluntary reporting will still be the status quo in most of America. But again, what’s happening in California is something to celebrate.
We asked Armaline if the lens of law enforcement was heavy in the report given the makeup of the RIPA Board and the Department of Justice taking the lead on the actual writing.
“Their voices and their input were absolutely a huge part of the process and the sort of deliberations of findings all the way down to the end,” Armaline said. “I think that’s another really big strength. It’s something that I would credit through those that did the heavy lifting on the research and the writing of the report. All perspectives that are represented on the board were absolutely part of this conversation and see themselves reflected in the report.”
Armaline went on to speak about finding a middle ground between a board made up of police, prosecutors, public defenders, academia, and clergy. He found it to be an open and deliberative process when it came down to finalizing things in the home stretch.
He thinks the bullet points associated with the facts cover a lot of the story but it’s important to read between the lines in the way all the numbers interconnect.
“The things that I would really point to are that we have a pretty consistent racial disparity,” Armaline said.
When you look at searches and use of force, he doesn’t know that people really understand when they read these statistics the rate at which folks are stopped. Especially where no criminal activity is actually found.
“All of those things you’re seeing are Black populations experienced that at 2.2, approximately two and a half times the rate of Whites. And that’s pretty consistent,” Armaline said. “In all of those cases, you’re looking at about two-and-a-half times that of Whites. We are absolutely seeing a consistent and systematic pattern of more aggressive policing of African American folks or Black folks in California than others, particularly than Whites.”
Armaline’s other big takeaway was the disparity of searches for transgender women. Worst case scenario, part of the reasoning for the search is to determine gender. “Which becomes really, really problematic in all the ways you can imagine,” Armaline said.
One thing that was true regardless of race and sexual orientation is the fact Californians love consenting to searches. Only 1 in 20 of the state’s residents who police asked to search denied consent. The other 95% consented.
Marc D. Wasserman, Esq, is one of Southern California’s loudest fourth amendment advocates. He regularly preaches the virtues of remaining silent during a police encounter via the #STFU Friday campaign he shares with the nearly half-a-million people following @Pot_Brothers_at_law on Instagram.
“This report is further proof that California citizens do not know their constitutional rights,” Wasserman told L.A. Weekly in an email. “When you consent to a search you ruin the ability for your attorney to later argue the search was illegal and your rights violated. By sticking to the script and utilizing your rights, your attorney will have a better chance to prove the cops violated your rights!”
Wasserman even sells a sticker of the script to let the police know what’s coming as they approach your window.
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