By Emily Dill
A debate broke out over the Racial Identity and Profiling Act (RIPA) data reviewed during the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) meeting Monday evening as Commission members argued that the data reflects a systemic racial bias issue in the Davis Police Department.
They argued that the data proves Black people are stopped in Davis at a disproportionate amount, which is a similar conversation many cities across the country have been having these past few months.
Jean Lyon, the records and communications manager for the Davis Police Department, shared how RIPA data is obtained and that it is required by all officers to submit.
After every stop, search, detention or arrest, the officer must complete a set of questions available on their government-issued phone, or in their police vehicle’s system. If a question is incomplete, the system will require the officer to complete it before the end of their shift and submit the electronic form correctly.
The system includes basic questions, such as the location of the contact and the length of detention. Further questions each officer must complete include the perceived race, gender, and protected status of the individual.
Commission member Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald asked whether or not the questionnaire would allow the officer to select more than one perceived ethnicity of the individual, to which Lyon responded that it does allow for this.
No officers are allowed to inquire about someone’s race or sexual identity; however, they must answer the questions according to what characteristics they believe the individual possesses. The intent of these questions is to measure if there is a biased ratio in police interaction that occurs based on an individual’s perceived characteristics: race, sexuality, gender, age, et cetera.
When questioned about the application of these numbers to policy reform and change, Lyon explained that it is hard to use them as concrete evidence on their own.
Kelly Stachowicz, Assistant City Manager, said that the data is supposed to act as a tool to assemble a bigger picture in both the police department and the broader community.
Commission members Dillan Horton and Sean Brooks wanted to use the RIPA data collected to understand the Davis Police Department’s actions and expressed confusion about what the data was for when told those comparisons wouldn’t make sense.
Horton highlighted that there is a disproportionate amount of stops in Davis when looking at race, a gap big enough that he argued would account for the difference between the population demographics distribution in the RIPA data and the last census in 2010 (the comparison data he used).
Lyon responded that it only made sense to look at the arrests made of Davis residents and not all the arrests because the race distribution is different outside of Davis.
A representative from Yolo People Power, an organization dedicated to justice and public safety, called in with the Davis resident arrest information, reporting that Black residents of Davis were 4.4 times more likely to be arrested than white residents, and when looking at felonies Black residents were 6.6 times more likely to be charged.
Horton continued to emphasize the shocking nature of these numbers, asking Lyon how the department reacts. A broad answer she provided was that a lot of the people in the RIPA data were not actually from Davis, so comparing to the census’s resident numbers would give a skewed perception of what is actually occurring.
Horton stated that they must be able to look at the data collected and be able to determine if there is a problem in the police force. He acknowledged that comparing anything to an outdated census is problematic, but a large disparity should sound alarms regardless.
Brooks claimed that 3 percent of the Davis population is Black, yet 18 percent of citations made by Davis Police Department officers are given to people whom they identified as Black. Agreeing with Horton, he asserted that even accounting for commuters, which Davis is not known for having many, there is a big distinction here.
Whether the data collected is the most accurate reflection of Davis’ current population or not, Brooks stated that if we do not react to these numbers, “we are allowing ourselves to turn a blind eye to what is clearly a systemic problem.”
Davis Mayor Gloria Partida started a discussion of poverty in regards to the RIPA data and how it may play a part in some of the encounters with police.
She explained to the commission that traffic stops can often disproportionately affect those who are not able to, for example, maintain their vehicle. Routine stops for overdue registration or broken tail lights could create a skewed line in the data.
Mayor Partida emphasized that the city needs to start thinking about what policies to implement to ensure that we are not criminalizing people of color and those in poverty but rather trying to help.
Jean Lyon assured the Commission that the report next year will have extensive analysis done on it to answer many of the questions that were brought up in this meeting.