Data From 4.6 Million Stops Show California Law Enforcement Routinely Engages In Biased Policing


from the no-surprises-here dept

Lots of tech is being thrown at cops with the intent of helping them work smarter. While this might sound like the early waves of a sea change, the end result — at least so far — is just more of the same stuff we’ve seen for decades.

Crime rates may be at historic lows and multiple law enforcement agencies under consent decrees enforced by the DOJ, but nothing much has changed over the years. Adding tech to the mix has only made biased policing more efficient by using garbage data generated by decades of biased police work to determine where cops patrol and who they stop.

Cops aren’t data scientists. Nor are they expected to engage in macro-level policing. But the facts speak for themselves. A study performed by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory (RIPA) Board examined a ton of data. And it arrived at completely expected conclusions. (h/t ABC7 News, which actually posted a link to the original report!)

A year’s worth of stops (traffic and pedestrian) were examined by RIPA. The report [PDF] opens with a brief paragraph summarizing just how many stops that was.

Five hundred thirty-five agencies conducted a total of 4,575,725 stops from January 1, 2022 to
December 31, 2022.

The findings of the Board were, sadly, unsurprising.

Black individuals were stopped 131.5 percent more frequently than expected, given their relative proportion of the California population, using a comparison of stop data and residential population data.

Not that other races fared much better. The state’s Hispanic population sits at 32.4%. But Hispanic persons made up nearly 43% of all stops.

So, what are Californians spending billions of law enforcement tax dollars on? Mainly just traffic enforcement. 82% of stops were for alleged traffic violations. Only 9% of stops were the result of calls for service.

Traffic stops are almost never about moving violations. Most traffic stops are exploratory. It’s way easier to engage in a pretextual stop of a driver than a pedestrian. There are a million traffic laws. Very few pertain to pedestrians. Pretextual stops can often lead to warrantless searches of people and cars. Perform enough stops and engage in enough warrantless searches and you’re bound to strike criminal activity gold eventually.

The RIPA report notes that changing policies can actually alter police tactics. The Los Angeles Police Department is no longer able to perform most pretextual stops. The LAPD is limited to stopping drivers for violations that “significantly interfere with public safety” or if they have verifiable information that the person they stopped has committed a serious crime. These restrictions — which have only been in place since March 2022 — resulted in 60% decrease in traffic stops for “equipment violations.”

Not only that, but it appears to have increased the quality of traffic stops by LAPD officers.

LAPD discovered contraband during a higher percentage of RIPA reported stops with searches after the pretext policy was in place (37.9% discovery rate) compared to the same time period in 2021, before the pretext policy was in place (36.0% discovery rate).

Now, this variance may prove to be an anomaly. But for the moment, it appears that limiting pretextual stops may result in more stops that actually result in evidence of criminal activity. But no matter how you look at it, nearly two-thirds of pretextual stops end without the discovery of contraband, which suggests nearly 100% of pretextual stops are fishing expeditions.

And they’re all fishing expeditions, really. That’s what the data says.

Overall, officers searched 13.8 percent of individuals they stopped. Officers discovered contraband or evidence from 27.3 percent of individuals they searched.

That means less than 4% of stops resulted in the discovery of contraband or other evidence of criminal activity. As terrible as that “success” rate is, it’s even worse when put in the context of race.

Black individuals had a higher probability of being searched (+0.6 percentage points) despite being less likely to be found in possession of contraband or evidence (-2.0 percentage points).

Not great. And that’s with incomplete data. This data is supposed to go to RIPA and this collection is enforced by the California Department of Justice. Unfortunately, what’s observed in this report might get even worse when the rest of data is finally handed over to the DOJ and RIPA. Nearly 100 California law enforcement agencies provided the Board with suspect data — something that probably won’t get ironed out until next year’s report.

The California DOJ reported to the Board regarding observed data anomalies in the data reported by 92 law enforcement agencies. These anomalies were identified where the agency reported months with large fluctuations in reported stops and where the agency reported some months with no stops at all.

There’s a lot more to this report. At 220 pages, it’s a comprehensive take on California law enforcement. While there are a few highlights, most of what’s detailed here is the sort of policing that should have gone out of style years ago. Instead of steady improvement, we’re just seeing the same thing over and over again. Throwing money and tech at cops hasn’t changed their innate impulses. And until that can be rectified, we’re just going to see the same biased policing for years to come.

Filed Under: biased policing, california, pretextual stops, traffic stops

Las Vegas News Magazine

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