California Will Become First in Nation to Collect All Data on Police Traffic Stops

TrafficStop(From ACLU Press Release) – With a growing chorus of voices demanding systemic police reform, California is poised to pass AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, the first-of-its-kind bill to collect basic information on police stops in order to combat racial and identity profiling. The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), was approved by the California Senate today and will return to its house of origin for concurrence. Following concurrence, AB 953 will be considered for signature by Governor Brown.

“Recent incidents have forced us to confront some ugly truths about the persistence of racial bias in law enforcement. One of our best defenses is information about who is stopped by police and why. Currently, information on these incidents isn’t provided publicly in a comprehensive way. The goal of AB 953 is to rectify this so we can make policies with the best information possible,” Weber said.

Just last week, nearly 800 people descended upon the capitol to urge Governor Brown to pledge his support for AB 953. Protestors staged three die-ins – each lasting four and a half minutes to represent the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body lay on the ground after he was killed – and then proceeded to occupy the halls outside of Governor Brown’s office for over two hours. Specifically, participants cited racial profiling as one of the reasons why people of color are being killed by police at racially disproportionate rates.

“For far too long Black, Indigenous, Latino, and immigrant communities have been unfairly profiled, harassed, and killed by law enforcement. We know it starts with a stop, but it can end in tragedy,” said Rev. Ben McBride, Director of Regional Clergy Development for PICO California. “Law enforcement has gone unchecked and the state legislature has failed at protecting those most vulnerable to police misconduct. The passage of AB 953 is just one way state legislators can begin to root out the evil ingrained in the culture of mass criminalization that exists in our state. Black lives matter. People of color matter. We must demand that our elected officials and law enforcement officers do what they are paid to do and that is protect us.”

According to an independent analysis, unarmed Black men are seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire nationwide. California holds the ominous record for the highest number of deaths in the country, with 129 people killed by law enforcement in the state this year. However, the state still does not collect, analyze, or make available basic information about who the police, stop, search or even shoot. The state of Connecticut’s Racial Profiling Prohibition Project has data-collection and advisory board components similar to those proposed under Weber’s bill. However, AB 953 would go one step further to include both traffic and pedestrian stops.

“If signed into law, AB 953 would pave the way for the nation on the issue of fair policing,” said Salimah Hankins, Director of Legislative Advocacy for Dignity and Power Now. “By developing a model system for collecting basic information about police stops, California would be moving away from the anecdotal to the empirical. And we know that as California goes, so goes the nation.”

If approved, AB 953 would:

  • Update California’s definition of racial and identity profiling to be in line with federal recommendations by including other demographic characteristics, such as gender and sexual orientation.
  • Require that California law enforcement agencies uniformly collect and report data on stops, frisks, and other interactions with the communities they serve.
  • Establish an advisory board to analyze stop data and develop recommendations to address problems with disparate policing where they exist.

The Communities United Coalition is comprised of the six AB 953 cosponsor organizations: PICO California, ACLU of California, Youth Justice Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Reform California, and Dignity and Power Now, as well as other organizations that also support the bill.

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  1. Barack Palin

    Establish an advisory board to analyze stop data and develop recommendations to address problems with disparate policing where they exist.

    So what types of recommendations will they come up with?  If more people of color percentage wise are being stopped for violations will the police then have to step up their policing on whites and Asians?

    1. David Greenwald

      You are getting too far ahead in this process.

      The first step is to have the data to be able to accurately analyze and see if there is a problem. If and I stress if there’s a problem then you figure out with the solution

      1. hpierce

        Good luck on the accuracy part for the ‘collected data’.  Maybe 100 years ago that would work. Today there are MANY individuals who have 2 or more “racial” identities.  Someone does a U-turn in the Core Area.  Citable.  Will the “stopee” need to fill out a lengthy questionnaire, have a DNA sample sent to, etc. to determine their race(s)?  For routine stops, I doubt if the average cop can accurately report the “race” of most people, unless they are ‘archetypes’.  So, in essence, we seem to require ‘racial profiling’ to see if there is ‘racial profiling’.  Cute.  Sounds like a law designed by (and for?) attorneys.  Kinda’ like the “yes or no… have you stopped beating your spouse?” question.

        Just thought about it… this could be fun… if I’m stopped, I could insist the officer characterize me as black/asian/”indigenous”/white. There’s no way an officer could figure out the two races that (to my understanding of family history) apply.

        1. David Greenwald

          A couple of years ago, as a member of the HRC we met with Assistant Chief Pytel and poured over the stop data in Davis. It was tricky to analyze and ultimately we opted for conflict resolution process over data analysis. But I still think it’s an important thing to have data even if it’s tricky to analyze and identify groups.

        2. hpierce

          So David, we need “data”, knowing the data is ‘suspect’ (pun intended)?  Will there be mandated ‘caveats’ when the data is “processed” and reported?

          1. David Greenwald

            No, the data is difficult to analyze, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t collect it. Otherwise we remain stuck in anecdotes, do you think that’s worked well?

      2. hpierce

        Well, David, you make a good point about the problem with ‘anecdotal’ data.  As you say, the proposed data will be difficult to analyze, and therefore subject to biases at the data collector and data analyzer levels (and data ‘reporter’ level).  So, I propose we make sure that the data be collected such that we have at least the same level of data for the ‘subject’, the officer, and the individual(s) who analyze (or report) the data.  Anything less sounds somewhat like the “anecdotal” approach, with a different ‘cachet’.

        Guess I have concerns about the ‘chain of custody’ of the data (yeah, bad punning morning), if it will be used to draw valid conclusions.

  2. PhilColeman

    With no intent of doing so, my comments embrace some of the questions and concerns that preceded this post.

    David’s temperate comment about we should finally see IF (emphasis added) a problem does exist with disparity in police/citizen contact patterns is well taken. Go back and read the ACLU promo and you’ll quickly note several times that this police bias is a foregone conclusion, that there is a racial bias in police-initiated stops. This summary judgment is incompatible with the ACLU’s later acknowledgement that no statistical measurement for such suspicions even exists. Were the ACLU be willing to share how they reached such a level of moral and statistical certainty, perhaps the pending law need not be enacted.

    I would beg that the composition of any review or advisory board created by this proposed legislation be certain to exclude all who have partnered with this article as they are all infected with a terminal case of pre-conceived bias.

    In the decades before the mid-70’s, it was normal law enforcement policy to record the ethnicity of all police citizen contacts, including traffic stops and pedestrians. The sole intent was to increase the accuracy of the identity of the person stopped, particularly should a traffic citation result in a warrant of arrest. It’s really embarrassing serving a warrant on a black guy, when the real bad guy was white. They just shared the same name and general description.

    Humankind is not comprised of thoroughbreds or AKC registered ancestry. We are all mongrels and  facial features often reflect thousands of years of cross pollination. Police would ask the ethnicity of a person detained when doubt was present, and sometimes the response was filled with vocal resentment and animosity. In response to community pressure, this practice stopped.

    Now it’s back and will be helpful in 3 ways to law enforcement should this bill pass. First, it reduces the number of arrest warrants served on the wrong person. Second, it will tell us just how bad the ethnic bias really is, if it actually is a statistically supported fact instead of a current naked suspicion.

    Finally, when people stopped express resentment with being asked, “What are you?” at least the police can say we are complying with state law, so take it up with your legislator.

    I’ll make a bold prediction that the number of blacks stopped in Atherton will be close in number to the number of whites stopped in Compton. I hope neighborhood demographics are part of the analysis.



    1. Davis Progressive

      calvin handy, the former ucd police chief who happens to be african-american once told me that the belief there is racial profiling locally is pervasive enough that we need to take the issue seriously.  either there is racial profiling and we need to address it.  or there is not racial profiling and we need to better communicate to people why they are being pulled over so that when they leave the encounter, they are completely understanding the rationale.  another thing i think that is important is that for some reason some people are stopped a lot more than others.  at some point, those people are likely to start thinking about why that might be.

      i don’t buy into the notion that minorities violate traffic laws more often than whites.  i speed all the time when i drive, i never get caught or pulled over.  i’m a silver-haired white person.  i know black people who get pulled over a lot and sometimes when they are not violating the law – at least enough to warrant a ticket.

      we can’t analyze this unless we have data.

      1. hpierce

        And, we may not be able to accurately analyze this even with the ‘data’.  Phil, David, and I seem to agree on the limitations, etc. of the data sought.  Particularly the collection, and neutral analysis.

      2. Frankly

        i don’t buy into the notion that minorities violate traffic laws more often than whites.

        There is more crime in minority neighborhoods, so it stands to reason that minorities are more prone to ignore the law.  It is in their culture.

  3. Anon

    The collection of the data of this sort is fraught with all sorts of murky problems, that will undermine any conclusions drawn.  My prediction is it would end up a political minefield.

    1. How do you determine ethnicity of person stopped; ethnicity of the officer?

    2. Who will be chosen for and what ethnicity will make up this committee to analyze the collected data?

    3. Exactly how will the data be analyzed?  What methods will be used?

    4. What will be done with any such analysis?

    Not to mention the additional cost of all of this data collection…

      1. David Greenwald

        Except for one problem – you only know someone is undocumented if you ask for their papers, which means, you end up catching a lot of innocent Latinos in that net. Moreover, local police don’t have jurisdiction over immigration matters.

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