Sunday Commentary: Door Is Back Open for Davis to Consider Berkeley Ordinance

Davis Police Car

Davis Police Car

By David M. Greenwald

Davis, CA – It is interesting—last week we had extensive discussions on reimagining policing and then, over the weekend and throughout this week, we had several police incidents.  The death of Daunte Wright on a pretext stop has the potential to put traffic stops back on the table.

When we discussed reimagining policing last week, one area that seemed pretty clear-cut for reform—and indeed the city and county are moving in the right direction—is diverting mental health calls away from the police toward some sort of co-response model.  While I have a bit of concern that we are still routing these calls through police, there is clear consensus both within the department and in the city to move in a new direction.

But for a long time my biggest concern has been police stops, racial profiling, driving while Black and pretext policing.  This is where a police officer stops someone for a minor infraction and then does a search both in their database as well as the vehicle itself to determine if a larger law has been broken.

The problem is that this sort of policing disproportionately impacts people of color.

The 2019 RIPA (Racial and Identity Profiling Act) data shows: “Black people are arrested at a rate 5.9 times more, and Hispanic people 1.5 times more, than their population share; when considering only Davis residents, Black people are arrested at 5.0 times and Hispanic people 1.4 times their population share.”

Statewide, the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board found that “individuals perceived to be Black were searched at nearly three times the rate of individuals perceived to be White.”  In addition, “officers arrested individuals perceived to be Black at nearly 1.6 times the rate as individuals perceived to be White.”

The question is how best to address these disparities.  Some have called for unarmed traffic enforcement.  I have always been a bit reluctant to go there, believing there is an inherent danger in pulling people over in a vehicle, even for routine stops like speeding.

In my podcast this week recorded for a future episode with Emily Galvin-Almanza and Alana Sivin, both former public defenders and now analysts with the Appeal, pointed out that the relative risk is actually quite low with just 48 police officers killed in the line of duty (just six of them in traffic violation stops) in 2019 compared with 999 people killed by police officers.

Still, my preference would instead be to go to the Berkeley model.

Let us start with the data.  In 2020, 121 people were killed during traffic stops.  In fact, the majority of the people killed by police are killed in response to things like mental health calls, traffic infractions and other low-level offenses.

The case of Daunte Wright fits the pattern of so-called prextextual stops, where police use a minor violation as a pretext for investigating an unrelated crime.  In his case it was an air freshener in the window that drew police attention and an expired license plate, and when they pulled him over,they found he had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant.

Some may wonder why there is a problem here?

But if you look at the NYU Study released in May 2020, police are not equal opportunity enforcers here.

The study, undertaken by Ravi Shroff, an assistant professor holding joint appointments at NYU Steinhardt and NYU CUSP, and his colleagues at the Stanford Open Policing Project, found “in a dataset of nearly 100 million traffic stops across the United States, black drivers were about 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers relative to their share of the residential population.”

Once stopped, the study found, “black drivers were searched about 1.5 to 2 times as often as white drivers” but “were less likely to be carrying drugs, guns, or other illegal contraband compared to their white peers.”

These findings have been repeated in many different studies—Blacks are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be searched, but less likely to be found with contraband, in part the reason is that whites are getting searched for an actual reason while Blacks are being searched due to biased policing.

So what is the solution here?  When pushed on this issue last week, Chief Pytel talked about the need for better unconscious bias training.

The problem is that current training is not closing the racial disparities gap.

He explained, “I believe… we never actually bridged the gap between what unconscious bias training was supposed to do to bring issues to the conscious realm from the unconscious realm and how that affects decision making in the law enforcement process.

“An officer sees someone go through a stop sign and that’s a legitimate violation and something an officer can stop them for.  In unconscious bias training, a lot is talked about if you’re going to stop a person, here’s all the biases that may take effect and can impact thinking,” he said.

But as Pytel points out, “Studies don’t show that unconscious training doesn’t change the stop data and the racial inequities. Also doesn’t prevent those rapid decision-making (instances).

“Unconscious bias training should translate to officers making more conscious decisions when there’s time—and 99 percent of the time, there’s time to consider what is it that I’m doing during this stop that may negatively impact a person and ends up just feeding the machine for the sake of feeding the machine (ie, the entire criminal justice system).”

He continued, “I think everybody would agree that there’s disparity in the criminal justice system.”

He said over the next year he wants to see if they can “individually bridge that gap and see if we can make those unconscious biases that everybody is affected by and see if the officers can bring that to conscious realm and make different decisions in every single stop or contact.”

But there is another solution here.  The Berkeley model simply outlaws these type of pretextual stops.

In February, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to support a package preventing Berkeley police from being able to stop drivers solely for minor traffic violations that include: equipment violations, expired vehicle registration, or not wearing a seat belt.

The police will only be able to conduct stops for violations “that endanger public safety.”  These include excessive speeding, running a red light or stop sign, and driving under the influence.

Those pulled over for a public safety reason can still be cited for low-level offenses.

Some have taken this to mean that people can get away with not paying for their vehicle registrations.  The reality is there are many ways to enforce vehicle registration violations administratively, and it does not have to become a law enforcement issue.  They can also be assessed if they are committing a moving violation.

The Berkeley policy also addresses the search disparity by requiring Berkeley police to obtain written consent from motorists before doing a search without a warrant.  A working group report found that requiring written consent reduced the number of warrantless vehicle searches by roughly 75 percent.

Additionally, “Officers are also no longer allowed to search a person who is on probation or parole unless the officer believes there is evidence of imminent danger, or that the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.”

Current law allows police wide latitude to search all people on probation or parole.  But of course, this also underlies bias policing because people of color are heavily over-represented among those under community supervision.

People of color are nearly twice as likely to be on parole as their white counterparts, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Last week, this kind of change seemed a bridge too far for Davis, but after Daunte Wright, the energy and impulse may be there to be make more fundamental changes.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    Door is Back Open For Davis To Consider Berkeley Ordinance

    Oh, by all means.  If Berkeley is doing it Davis must too.

     The reality is there are many ways to enforce vehicle registration violations administratively

    Please explain, if someone knows they can’t be stopped and can drive freely without paying their registration how can it be enforced administratively?  How?  Seize wages, impound their car?  I can hear the cries of suppression and systematic racism now.

    1. David Greenwald

      One way would be to issue a court summons whereby they either must pay by a date or appear in court. And if you object to the notion of the court summons in the mail, remember, that’s basically what happens now if you are pulled over. You are issued a fix it ticket in the mail and must either pay the registration or face an additional fine. This is simply cuts out the need for the additional traffic stop. In addition, there is nothing to preclude a fix-it ticket when they get pulled over for a speeding offense.

    2. Edgar Wai

      To put things in perspective, we are comparing:
      A) A potential reduction in revenue in registration fees

      Versus

      B) A potential reduction of suspect injuries or unfair stopping

      It is unfair if someone does not need to pay. The administrative measures would mainly target people who can actually pay eventually.

      However this consideration is irrelevant IF there is data showing that those who are late in paying registration fees eventually pay the fees.

      Therefore, unless there is actual drop of revenue, there is no basis of concern.  A city could just try and see what actually happens and collect data on the actual impact on revenue.

       

       

  2. Ron Oertel

    One way would be to issue a court summons whereby they either must pay by a date or appear in court.

    Wasn’t that already being ignored by Daunte Wright? For something more serious than a previous traffic violation?

    By the way, the reports I’ve seen show that he was pulled over for expired registration, not for safety concerns related to something hanging from the mirror. And that the “air freshener” issue was noticed after pulling him over. (Not sure of the reason for the latter law, but I assume it has to do with traffic safety.)

  3. Ron Oertel

    Also, has anyone checked into whether or not the guy who plowed-into that woman at high speed (and killed her) on 2nd Street a few years back also had expired registration?  And perhaps, no insurance?

    Not sure if he had outstanding warrants.

    But if any of those are accurate, I sure wish that the police had detained him prior to that incident. Even if he was “black”, and doing so would have ended up with “disproportionate results” (gasp).

    1. Edgar Wai

      That is like a broken window mentality.

      Which could be justified if the data shows a strong statistical correlation between those with expired registration and those who cause traffic collisions.
      If there is no correlation, then it is an unjustified bias.
      But at the end of the day, a community could choose not to enact a measure even if they are justified to do so.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Which could be justified if the data shows a strong statistical correlation between those with expired registration and those who cause traffic collisions.

        And/or, have outstanding warrants, no insurance, engage in other crimes, etc.

        Those are statistics that should be reviewed and analyzed, prior to even considering any possible changes.

        1. Edgar Wai

          All of those profiling techniques are justified from the perspective reducing crime.

          However, that takes a society a steps closer to something like an authoritarian regime.

          At the end of the day it depends on whether the community wants to be more authoritarian or libertarian.  There is a range of steps a community could take before it turns into full fledged fascist community. It is not like adding one authorian policy would turn a community into communism.

        2. Ron Oertel

          However, that takes a society a steps closer to something like an authoritarian regime.

          If continuing to enforce registration requirements (which is also connected to insurance, smog checks, etc.) is “authoritarian”, I don’t think I’d agree.

          But yeah, I would think that officials deciding this would want to know if abandoning this would further endanger the public in other ways.

        3. Edgar Wai

          In terms of safety, the libertarian <—> authoritarian scale is based on how late/early do you act against a person if it is but a statistical correlation thay they could be uo to no good.

          On the extreme libertarian end, it is no harm no foul. Someone could be firing a machine gun at you but if they didn’t actually hit you, their liberty to fire their machine gun is legal. (It is also legal for you to return fire.)

          On the extreme authoritarian end, if you think about,  say,  or do,  or is otherwise statistically associated to anyone who could do so against authority, or could have your freedom stripped, or be punished in a variety of ways.

          By no means I implied that one way is better than the other.  Stable societies are normally somewhere in between.  There is range of tolerance to keep a society stable. (If a society is unstable because it is too libertarian, then taking an authoritarian policy could make it more stable.)

          A community can decide how it positions itself.  Being informed is good.

    2. Bill Marshall

      I sure wish that the police had detained him prior to that incident.

      On what grounds?  Pre-cognition? Mental telepathy?

      Facts:  no observable evidence that he was doing a “bad” until just prior to the incident (moments)… he was on probation/whatever, awaiting a court date on various charges… he was ‘using’, but not apparent from normal observation (20-20 hindsight is different from ‘foresight’)… he sped up, passing a stopped car on the right, in a bike lane/rt turn lane, and t-boned a woman who had not observed the threat…

      Ironically, from what we know in hindsight, the change of the intersection to include a all-way traffic light stop (probably $100k+), would, at a 90% confidence level, not changed one scintilla, the events and the outcome.  The dude did a bunch of ‘stupids’, a bunch of ‘bads’, and a ‘senior’ died…

      Ron, you picked a really poor analogy/metaphor/example.

      BTW “Court Watch” folk, what was the disposition of the arrest(s), adjudication, etc. in the events Ron O cited?  Don’t recall seeing anything in the Emptyprize nor on the VG…

      1. Ron Oertel

        On what grounds?  Pre-cognition? Mental telepathy?

        Uhm – no.  Did you even read my comment before sticking your foot in your mouth?

        It’s unfortunate to have to waste my final comment on someone who doesn’t apparently doesn’t read. Especially since it’s part of the same sentence that you quoted, but left out.

  4. Alan Miller

    While I have a bit of concern that we are still routing these calls through police,

    Those evil, evil dispatchers.  How dare they make decisions.

    The solution is to have the dispatchers not be under the police department, but to dispatch all calls to the proper department within a Public Safety Dept. that includes the Police Dept.

    This is where a police officer stops someone for a minor infraction and then does a search both in their database as well as the vehicle itself to determine if a larger law has been broken.

    Better to let people get away with the larger law they broke 😐

    The question is how best to address these disparities.

    Yup

    Some have called for unarmed traffic enforcement.

    Berkeley style!

    I have always been a bit reluctant to go there, believing there is an inherent danger in pulling people over in a vehicle, even for routine stops like speeding.

    You have always been wise.

     with just 48 police officers killed in the line of duty (just six of them in traffic violation stops) in 2019 compared with 999 people killed by police officers.

    It is very important that the number of police officers killed be brought in line with the number of people killed by police.  Perhaps having unarmed officers stop cars, more officers will be killed and this will assist in this disparity.

    Still, my preference would instead be to go to the Berkeley model.

    Isn’t that going where you were reluctant to go, always?

    the majority of the people killed by police are killed in response to things like mental health calls, traffic infractions and other low-level offenses.

    Many of which turned into or where discovered to have high-level offenses involved or unfold.

    an air freshener in the window that drew police attention and an expired license plate, and when they pulled him over,they found he had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant.

    Case in point.

    Some may wonder why there is a problem here?

    The problems came later:  warrant, running, and most of all the use of the wrong weapon.

    In unconscious bias training, a lot is talked about if you’re going to stop a person, here’s all the biases that may take effect and can impact thinking

    Maybe have a social worker in every police car to discuss bias with officers when they are considering pulling someone over.

    “Unconscious bias training should translate to officers making more conscious decisions when there’s time—and 99 percent of the time, there’s time to consider what is it that I’m doing during this stop that may negatively impact a person and ends up just feeding the machine for the sake of feeding the machine (ie, the entire criminal justice system).”

    Feeding the machine for the sake of feeding the machine is never a good motivation – and yet, this is the default motivation of all government.  Might want to think about that when seeking government as an answer to anything.

    He said over the next year he wants to see if they can “individually bridge that gap and see if we can make those unconscious biases that everybody is affected by and see if the officers can bring that to conscious realm and make different decisions in every single stop or contact.”

    That should easy to measure 😐

    But there is another solution here.

    There is?

    The Berkeley model simply outlaws these type of pretextual stops.

    The Berkeley!!!!!!!!!!! model.

    In February, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to support a package preventing Berkeley police from being able to stop drivers solely for minor traffic violations that include: equipment violations, expired vehicle registration, or not wearing a seat belt.

    What could go wrong?

    The police will only be able to conduct stops for violations “that endanger public safety.”

    I feel I don’t need to say what I was going to say, because it’s so obvious to anyone who agrees, and will be trashed by those who don’t.  So I won’t.

    These include excessive speeding, running a red light or stop sign, and driving under the influence.

    And will be pulled over by city employees without guns.

    Some have taken this to mean that people can get away with not paying for their vehicle registrations.

    They can already.  It does increase the chance of not getting caught.

    The reality is there are many ways to enforce vehicle registration violations administratively, and it does not have to become a law enforcement issue.

    Like going around the neighborhood citing cars without registration?  Isn’t that going to lead to biased enforcement against persons without garages, who are more likely to be people of color?

    They can also be assessed if they are committing a moving violation.

    As now.  What is this, Bretton Woods?

    The Berkeley policy also addresses the search disparity by requiring Berkeley police to obtain written consent from motorists before doing a search without a warrant.

    That one I agree with.  Should be standard procedure.  Of course, with fewer searches, you might miss the body in the trunk.

    A working group report found that requiring written consent reduced the number of warrantless vehicle searches by roughly 75 percent.

    And the goal is less searches 😐

    “Officers are also no longer allowed to search a person who is on probation or parole unless the officer believes there is evidence of imminent danger, or that the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.”

    What is the officers belief of the three ways around that have not taken into consideration the officer’s consideration of their own possible unconscious bias that could feed the machine for the sake of feeding the machine?

    Current law allows police wide latitude to search all people on probation or parole.

    Isn’t that the point of parole?

    But of course, this also underlies bias policing because people of color are heavily over-represented among those under community supervision.

    And the solution, rather than on the input end, is therefore the output end?  Isn’t that like the opposite logic of lowering funding to police and giving it to social programs to prevent crime in the first place?

    Last week, this kind of change seemed a bridge too far for Davis, but after Daunte Wright, the energy and impulse may be there to be make more fundamental changes.

    Never let a terrible incident go to waste and not be used to push for one’s political agenda.

  5. Chris Griffith

    I was just walking down f street with a crowbar in my hand, and a pig stopped me and started hassling me about why there are 5 cars with busted windows just down the street from me.
    Clearly, I was profiled.

  6. Tia Will

    Ok. Now that we have a clear representation from the “comedic” crew, can I ask a serious question.

    Do we have data on pretext calls by the relative age of the driver stopped? One thing most people seem to be able to agree upon is that more crimes seem to be committed by individuals under 40 than by those over that age. I am wondering if we have data for this as regards pretext stops.

    And yes, I fully confess to the “mowing your lawn while black episode” crossing my mind as I wrote this.

     

  7. Chris Griffith

    One thing most people seem to be able to agree upon is that more crimes seem to be committed by individuals under 40 than by those over that age

    people are over the age of 40 to have morals the people under the age of 40 appear not to have morals. Whether that is from a chemical imbalance a brain that’s not fully developed or just simply drug addiction that seems to be what’s taking over the under 40 crowd.

     

  8. Chris Griffith

    Which has huge implications for how we choose to incarcerate –

    This is simply a society with morals that are decaying. When you have a society that can self identify from anything to a cat dog to bird or a chicken and everything in between when you have State legislature that wants to pass laws to decriminalize drugs and things like jaywalking when you have cities that does not  want to enforce laws for no registration and so this is a pure indication it was society that does not want to be accountable for their actions. When you vilify cops who are simply trying to do their job to protect the public trying to make murders out of at every turn.

    Okay that’s the end of my rant I need to take a nap now 🤗

     

     

     

     

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