The Xavier Factor

Busy day at the AG’s office as RIPA-related police-profiling video released

By any account, it looked like a pretty busy day yesterday at Xavier Becerra’s office. The state attorney general’s office pushed out four press releases, mostly directed at holding Washington D.C. accountable—but also at police accountability in the state.

In one announcement, Becerra denounced President Donald Trump’s rollback of offshore drilling rules that came about after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

He also stood ready to defend Californians against Trump’s “faith-based” refusal-of-care announcement at the National Prayer Breakfast this week, that will, Becerra charged, “allow broad, sweeping refusals of care based on religious or moral objections, even in emergency circumstances.” The LGBTQ community has denounced the move and Becerra pledged to protect them.

The activist AG further announced that California, leading a coalition of 20 states had filed a reply brief to Trump’s challenge to their lawsuit, California et. al. v Trump, et al., over the president’s national emergency declaration at the southern border.

While not mentioned by name, the fourth May 2 press release from Becerra was obliquely tied to the president, to the extent that Trump has enacted a Muslim ban while defending racial profiling and stop-and-frisk police policies—and pardoning racial profilers such as former Arizona sheriff Joe Arapio.

The fourth release announced a new video to help enhance public buy-in of an ambitious police-accountability law. In 2015, the state of California passed the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, (AB 953), a first-in-the-nation law which requires, by 2023, that all law enforcement agencies across the state collect detailed information and recordings of stops and searches, including data on the officers’ perception of the person being stopped, in order to combat policing profiling of suspects.

But earlier this year, the board that was created with the passage of RIPA released a report that found very little evidence of racial profiling in California in 2017.

The California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (comprised of a cross-section of law enforcement personnel, community representatives, and other appointees) was created to “shepherd this data collection and provide public reports with the ultimate objective to eliminate racial and identity profiling and improve and understand diversity in law enforcement through training, education, and outreach.”

In 2017, it cast a wide net to determine the extent of the racial-profiling problem California—but the results indicated that there was practically no racial-profiling problem in California. Of the 453 agencies subject to RIPA reporting in 2017, 79 said they had no civilian complaints reported that year; 374 agencies reported that the had one or more complaint.

According to press reports, the RIPA board was split on what the data meant: For some law enforcement representatives it meant that there wasn’t much of a racial profiling crisis in California. For police-accountability advocates, it meant that the data-collection process under RIPA was either flawed or corrupted by the so-called police “blue wall,” or both.

Multiple civilian complaints were reported by 141 agencies, which received 865 complaints (out of a total of 9,459) that alleged racial or identity profiling during a police stop. Ten percent of the complaints that reached a disposition were sustained. The remainder were either un-sustained, exonerated, or determined to be unfounded.

This spring, eight large agencies—the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Police Department, and the San Francisco Police Department—sent a year’s worth of data to the state Department of Justice on April 1, under the timetable set by the RIPA law when it was enacted.

In all, the data collected over the past year represents 1.8 million “interactions between peace officers and the public,” according to the May 2 release and will be analyzed for next year’s annual report.

As it reported a low number of civilian complaints in its 2017 study (released this March in the RIPA board’s 2019 report), the board addressed a possible absence of public buy-in in RIPA’s data-collection process as the culprit behind what to many police-accountability activists were seen as surprisingly or even shockingly low numbers.

The board aimed in the annual report released in March to “enhance the transparency of the stop data collection process by providing the public with detailed information on how the data is collected and submitted and how the Department [of Justice] and law enforcement agencies ensure the integrity of this data.”

That information includes the date, time and duration of a stop, the reason for a stop, the officer’s perception of the race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability or language fluency of the person stopped.

Now the board has released a video to address the major concern raised by the 2017 study: how to gain and the public’s trust and maintain the integrity of the data collected by officers.

The video sets out to “describe some of the mechanisms in place to data is complete and accurate,” according to the AG’s May 2 press release, which goes on to explain that “these efforts include local internal compliance audits, error notifications automatically built into the state collection system, and review of the data by government and academic researchers who can check for anomalies during analysis.

“The Board recognizes that working to address community concerns by building confidence in the data collection process is an important step in achieving its larger purpose of eliminating racial and identity profiling. Additionally, the video also features community organizations and academic institutions discussing how the data collected on police interactions with the public can be used to better understand who is stopped and why.”

The RIPA rollout is pegged to the size of law enforcement agencies around the state. Under the law signed by then Gov. Jerry Brown, agencies with more than 1,000 peace officers had to file their first reports with the state Department of Justice by April 1 of this year. Agencies with between 667 and 1,000 peace officers will submit their first reports by next April 1; those with between 334 and 667 peace officers will be RIPA-compliant by 2022 (this includes the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office), and agencies with fewer than 334 officers will issue their first reports in 2023.

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