In the wake of national debate and public anger over killings by police in New York, Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, California has addressed the issue of protecting minorities from racial profiling and excessive force. Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation mandating that law enforcement agencies collect and make data publicly available on the racial makeup of those encountered by police. This brings up the debate regarding racial profiling versus criminal profiling.
Some have voiced concerns in the media regarding what constitutes a legitimate detention and encounter when police are conducting traffic stops and stopping people on the street. There is a belief that a racial bias persists in law enforcement. There is an argument that the police pull over far too many drivers, and stop and detain too many individuals on the street, with far too many fatal results. To read my previous article (Curtailing Police Stops) on this topic, please click on my website and check under “Recent Posts” on the left column. http://www.billcweiss.com.
With the new laws, police agencies in California must collect data on people they stop, including perceived race and ethnicity, the reason for the encounter and what were the results of the stop. Law enforcement agencies will also be required to issue detailed annual reports on all cases when officers use force that result in serious injury or death.
The state attorney general’s office will determine how the reporting is done and the how the data is stored. Data collection does not have to begin until March 1, 2018, in order to allow time for a system to be set up. State rules on falsifying and withholding evidence will also be tighter.
Groups, such as the California Police Chief’s Association, have concerns regarding the cost and burden of collecting so much data and what is the real benefit. Many feel this creates a huge bureaucratic headache. Many feel this is costly to taxpayers and takes officer’s time away from other duties, and this will not do much to determine whether or not police treat minority groups fairly.
For civil rights activists this is a big move toward protecting minority rights. Some supporters cite studies showing that unarmed black men are many more times more likely to die by police gunfire than unarmed white men.
How will this collection of data truly prove if racial profiling is occurring? If a patrol officer stops and detains 10 people during his shift and 7 are black males, 2 are Hispanic males, and 1 is a white male, how does that information tell us that the officer is racially profiling male blacks? How do we measure what the officer encountered during his shift, such as what he observed happen in front of him, what his perception of those incidents were, and were these truly indicative of the crimes and suspicious activity he observed and encountered? Does this information show that the officer observed 10 incidents where crimes were being committed by white or Hispanic males, but he did not stop to investigate and detain them? Should we look at both the percentage of the population each race represents in that particular area along with the percentage of criminal activity that each race represents?
Can we really measure what the perception and mind set of an officer is when he or she makes these observations and contacts? Unless you can get into the officer’s mind there is really no way to know if it was because of race, unless he or she tells you that was the only reason. Using data and statistics to prove this is very questionable and dangerous.
As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, many of these encounters result in force or deadly force used by the officer when individuals disobey lawful orders, show outright aggressiveness and total disregard, including attacking and trying to disarm the officer. To read the article, (What’s Wrong With This Picture?), please click on my website and see “Recent Posts” on the left column. http://www.billcweiss.com.
I am sure that there are some cases of racial profiling among the thousands of officers who make thousands of encounters every day. We all have prejudices. We all have likes and dislikes. That is human nature. Of course, violating the rights of others due to those prejudices is not right nor should it be tolerated.
I believe what is occurring and what most data will reveal is that a strong majority of police contacts are based on criminal profiling. My training and 32 plus years of real life law enforcement experiences tell me this. If a black male is committing several street robberies in my patrol area, my attention will be focused to this type of suspicious activity. This includes people and vehicles of similar descriptions that are provided by the crime victims and witnesses. I will not be directed to and focused toward white or Hispanic males who are law abiding. How does the data gathered on my patrol activity and contacts discern that factor? #racialprofiling, #criminalprofiling
As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
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