The winds of criminal justice and policing reform are blowing, as California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) just signed a law sponsored by state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D) requiring the police to publicly report the race and other demographic information of every person stopped by the police. Police do not like it, and Black activists do.
Racial and Identity Profiling Act expands California’s once vague definition of racial profiling to include “identity profiling” basaed on gender, national origin or other attributes protected by law from discrimination. The act requires the police to record the racial and other identity characteristics of anyone stopped or detained.
“Racial or identity profiling is a practice that presents a great danger to the fundamental principles of our Constitution and a democratic society. It is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated,” the bill reads. “Racial or identity profiling alienates people from law enforcement, hinders community policing efforts, and causes law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people whom law enforcement is sworn to protect and serve.”
“This collection of information, depending on how it is all broken out, should enable any individual police department to know whether it has any potential problems and to fix those problems,” David Harris, an expert in police behavior at Pittsburgh University School of Law, told VICE News. “It also enables the police department to say to public, look, we looked at the data and no we don’t have this problem. Without the data you can’t do any of these things,” he said. “What you actually want is to find out what the officer perceives the race or ethnicity to be, because that is what might be motivating the improper stops. The actual race is irrelevant.”
Meanwhile, activists and civil liberties advocates agree the passage of the Racial and Identity Profiling Act is a positive and needed development.
“It gives us the data we need to finally get a systemic understanding of police violence so that we can move from anecdotal accounts and live the experience and narratives of being harmed by law enforcement and being stopped and profiled into a data-driven approach,” Chauncey Smith, a racial justice advocate, told ABC 7 news in Los Angeles.
““It simply provides basic transparency about what officers are doing out on the street,” Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney and director of police practices for the ACLU of Southern California, told the Huffington Post. “And this law makes California the national leader in terms of the data it is collecting.”
We all know racial profiling is an issue,” Trineka Greer, spokeswoman for the advocacy group PICO California told VICE News. “If you are black or Latino or indigenous, you know you’re likelihood of getting stopped is much greater than white people. Every time we have the data provided, it tells the same story.”
Greer called the legislation “historic, and hopes other such laws around the nation are enacted “so no longer will people and communities of color expect to be terrorized in their communities.”
“Law enforcement agents are sworn to protect everybody, including black people, Latino people, and indigenous people, and they have to build trust between the community and law enforcement to allow them to do their job,” she added. “This is a mechanism by which we can begin to build that trust.”
However, police in California are railing against the requirements of the new law.
“There is no racial profiling. There just isn’t,” Stephen James of the Long Beach Police Officers Association told the Los Angeles Times. “There is criminal profiling that exists.” Saying “It’s the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen cross this governor’s desk,” James fears the law will result in higher costs and fewer police in the field.
“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 California Fraternal Order of Police President Roger Mayberry in a statement, as reported by Vice News. “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.”
Mayberry added that the new policies will “unnecessarily interfere and burden law enforcement with unrealistic expectations and policies.”
“I don’t fear information. What I fear is information that is not processed correctly,” said L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck, who says it already collects data similar to what the law requires. “There are a lot of areas of our society that have disparate impact on various races, and I think it’s important that we view these things in those contexts, and hopefully that’s the way that the state will look at this kind of data.”
The California legislation comes at a time when anti-police violence activists have demanded greater transparency in policing and the criminal justice system, including the collection of data regarding stops, arrests, shootings and killings by police.
Recently, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a new initiative called OpenJustice to make criminal justice data—including police stops and arrests, racial disparities and deaths in custody–available to the public. This, as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced this week a pilot program to count the number of people killed by police throughout the U.S.