Sunday Commentary: Davis Can and Should Do More on Police Reform

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Photo Courtesy Don Sherman

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

I have been closely watching discussions across the state on police reform—and don’t get me wrong, I like that Davis seems to be moving in the right direction on Crisis Now, but I know a lot of the activists don’t believe the city has gone far enough fast enough, and I agree.

We have extensively covered the death of Angelo Quinto in Antioch—I completely agree that with a Crisis Now response rather than a police response, Angelo would still be alive.  I have seen enough police mental health interactions in Davis, personally, to know that we would benefit greatly from this change.  But we should not stop there.

It was an eye-opening experience to listen to the conversation last week in San Diego.  You know wide-eyed, liberal San Diego…. Oh wait.

They had a study that found: “San Diego Police Department stopped black people at 219% higher rate per population than white people.”  Moreover, “Once stopped black people were more likely to be searched, arrested, and to have force used against them.”

Change the name San Diego and that finding could have been written anywhere.

Except here’s the thing—whereas in San Diego the discrepancy is like 2 to 3 percent (depending on whether you are talking SDPD or SDSC), in Davis it’s closer to six percent.

I get the impression that the leaders in this community do not fully grasp just how bad the Davis numbers are.  The numbers are above both state and national average.  I have not seen a jurisdiction with numbers that high.

The RIPA (Racial Identity Profiling Act) data in Davis does a great job of putting numbers onto what I have heard over the years.  Because of UC Davis, Davis policing has an oversized impact on the perception of the community.  I run into a lot of people, especially in Sacramento, who went to Davis and many of them—those who are Black and brown—will raise the issue of policing, unsolicited.

I had people who grew up in Oakland come up and complain about Davis Police.  Now we know why.  Oakland has disproportionate policing (see the 2016 Stanford Study) – 60 percent of the traffic stops in Oakland were Black versus a population of 28 percent, that’s about 114 percent more, but in Davis it is nearly six times more.

(As I was looking at the Stanford Study just now, they noted the discrepancy: “When officers report being able to identify the race of the person before stopping them, the person stopped is much more likely to be African American (62 percent) than when officers couldn’t tell the race (48 percent).”  That mirrors the national numbers on that as well—and reminds me of the Nextdoor debate that got pulled where I kept pointing out this data when people said you can’t see inside cars).

Bottom line is that for my 15 years of work here with the Vanguard and 16 years working specifically on this issue, the biggest problem in Davis is police stops.

There are now multiple models that we can look at.

Earlier this year, Berkeley voted to limit low-level traffic stops to reduce the need for policing communities of color.

In July the Vanguard published the San Francisco Public Defender recommendatio—eliminating quality of car stops, eliminating jaywalking and loitering detention and baseless searches.

The San Francisco proposal goes a little further than Berkeley.

At the core—low level traffic stops are “often pretextual” the policy notes, and “used to harass Black motorists and pedestrians.

“Almost any driver or pedestrian, if observed for long enough, will commit a low-level traffic infraction,” the SF policy notes.  “A traffic stop, then, can become a way for officers to investigate the driver or passengers for evidence of otherwise not obvious criminal activity.”

Research has shown that these kinds of traffic stops, while harassing and disruptive to communities of color, are largely ineffective at catching actual crimes and can lead to escalation, violence and even police killings.

Further: “Low-level traffic enforcement does little to reduce crime in general. Research shows that policing infractions and misdemeanors has little demonstrable impact on reducing crime but creates significant downsides.”

Frank Baumgartner, who studies policing and policing tactics, labels traffic stops of this sort a “needle-in-the-haystack strategy” to detect crime, and thereby becomes “an incredible waste of effort.”

A recent study out of Nashville, in collaboration with the Stanford Computational Policy Lab (SCPL), reached a similar conclusion.  That report found that, while a disproportionate number of Black people were pulled over in Nashville on proactive traffic stops, such stops rarely led to an arrest or the recovery of drugs and weapons.

“For every 1,000 non-moving violation stops, just over two percent (or 21) resulted in an arrest, or the recovery of drugs or other contraband. An additional 61 stops (6.1 percent) resulted in a misdemeanor citation for a non-drug related charge,” according to SCPL’s report.

But while I like San Francisco’s, the proposal out of San Diego is actually much better and would probably stop the problem in Davis altogether.

This is the PrOTECT model (which stands for Preventing Over-Policing Through Equitable Community Treatment).

  • Require police officers to have probable cause to stop or search anyone, including Fourth waivers—people on probation or parole who have waived some of their Fourth Amendment rights
  • Require probable cause for searches
  • Prohibit officers from questioning people about any offenses beyond the offense for which they were stopped unless the officers have probable cause
  • Hold officers accountable if they violate the ordinance

If there is actual evidence of a crime then, by all means, police should investigate it.  But we are talking about using low level traffic offenses as a pretext for stopping someone and searching their car.  As the research shows, it’s a good way to harass Black and brown people, but it’s not a good way to actually stop crimes.

So why are we still doing it?  To me this is the heart of the problem—other communities have given Davis some tools to work with.  By all means implement Crisis Now, but there is no reason we shouldn’t do more, and this is something we can do.

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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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36 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Davis Can and Should Do More on Police Reform”

  1. Keith Olsen

    but I know a lot of the activists don’t believe the city has gone far enough fast enough

    No surprise there, as far as they’re concerned the city can never go far enough for the activists on almost any issue. Maybe the council is tired of getting “hammered by a small section of the public”.

  2. Alan Miller

    I like that Davis seems to be moving in the right direction on Crisis Now, but I know a lot of the activists don’t believe the city has gone far enough fast enough, and I agree.

    And the activists always will, and you/they will never get what you are asking for.  Understand, I agree with the mental health and Crisis Now aspects.  So we can dance in Central Park and sing KOOMBAYA on that one.  But you heard the mayor speak, someone cryptically, a few months back.  Basically said there are a lot of other voices in the community that are sending them emails but not speaking in public because of the current atmosphere – and asking that the police force not be curtailed and the their enforcement not be reduced.  Didn’t say exactly that but that’s what I heard between the lines.  And you will always be up against that.

    I’m not speaking about not addressing the issue – clearly there’s an issue, though I’m not sure its as simple as the Davis police as a whole are as racist as you claim.   That shouldn’t stop at ‘finger pointing’ vs. ‘police defending’ — it should be rationally examined and steps taken – though I’m not sure how we get there as everything is so emotionally charged.  But no I’m not suggesting that be dropped – there’s an issue.  My issue is solving the problem by ending up with a noseless face.

    Such as,

    Earlier this year, Berkeley voted to limit low-level traffic stops to reduce the need for policing communities of color . . . the San Francisco Public Defender recommendatio—eliminating quality of car stops, eliminating jaywalking and loitering detention and baseless searches.

    Um, no . . . I bicycle in those towns, and there are dangerous, scary drivers on the road that threaten and at times hit and kill others, especially those of us without metal shells around us.  Limiting so-called ‘low-level’ traffic stops is like eliminating the stomach in order to lose weight.  The way to lose weight is to eat less.  Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but don’t eliminate the stomach, nor the traffic stops.  Let’s deal with the issue the hard way, not the obtuse way that prevents traffic laws from being enforced.  Baby baby bathwater, BABY!

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I definitely get that you always don’t get what you want. But the police stop issue is probably the most disproportionate I have seen in the state – shouldn’t we address that? And forget whether it’s racist or not. The four proposals should address the issue in my view – agree or disagree?

      1. Alan Miller

        I definitely get that you always don’t get what you want.

        But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you just might find . . . you get what you nee-eeeed.

        But the police stop issue is probably the most disproportionate I have seen in the state – shouldn’t we address that?

        Yes.  I said yes.

        And forget whether it’s racist or not.

        Not forgetting . . . that’s part of the yes.

        The four proposals should address the issue in my view – agree or disagree?

        I agree, but you moved the goal post and didn’t respond on what I was talking about.  The four proposals are all about probable cause, which I agree with . . . meh on the probation . . . probably disagree on that one.  But I was talking about the low-level traffic stops.  So don’t Mott the Hoople the discussion.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          I think the probable cause provision could address the low level stops – not by outlawing them, but by preventing them to be used as a pretext.  If you need probably cause to search, it will reduce the incentive to simply pull people over for low level offenses and search their vehicle.  So I think this might be a better and cleaner way to get at the problem.

      2. Bill Marshall

        The four proposals should address the issue in my view – agree or disagree?

        I’ll take s swing on that…

        “Probable cause” is a squishy term, subject to interpretation, difficult to define in “the here and now”, much easier to critique in the Monday-morning quarterback environment… in the “here and now”, all of us need to trust our “gut” from time to time, and that will be correct or not, but that will only be evident “later”… the term shows up in three of your proposals.

        Hold officers accountable if they violate the ordinance

        Two problems there… what does ‘hold accountable’ mean?  If it just means they need to explain their thought process, afterwards, reflect upon it, yeah, am good with that… if it means automatic disciplinary action… which leads to the next problem, ‘violation of the ordinance’…  again, hard to determine in the “here and now”, only after more is known, after the fact.  Was it willful, was it malicious, was it a ‘stupid’, was it a well-intentioned error?

        As written, the four proposals are wide open to greatly varying interpretations, by those who “weren’t there”, and may have biases from an extreme “officer is always right” to “an officer is always wrong (unless proven, beyond reasonable doubt, to be ‘not guilty’).

        Nice words, questionable substance.  They need more precise, measurable, rational metrics. As written, not ready for prime time… as an ‘skeleton’, needing to be fleshed out, it is a reasonable beginning point.

        In my opinion.

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          See here is the thing – probable cause means you have to swear under oath that you have “probable cause” to believe someone committed a crime.  It is flexible for sure.  But it requires a far higher standard than exists now.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Keep in mind the interaction here of layers of protection. If someone complains the cop attempted a baseless search, the cop has to justify based on probable cause and the body worn camera is then used to enforce it. With the accountability provision that can form real teeth.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Do the records show actual numbers of people stopped by police for “no reason” (in other words, no ticket given, no arrest, etc.) – broken down by skin color?

    Or by gender, for that matter? Or by age group?

    Cops just pulling people over based upon those factors, and no other reason?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Do the records show actual numbers of people stopped by police for “no reason” (in other words, no ticket given, no arrest, etc.) – broken down by skin color?”

      Yes

      1. Ron Oertel

        Well, let’s see them.  By year?

        Not percentages – actual numbers.

        (Actually, I asked about gender and age groupings, as well. But since you’re primarily concerned about disproportionate enforcement related to skin color, I suspect that’s all you have available. That’s fine – let’s see the numbers.)

        (And since this article refers to Davis police, that’s all I’m referring to.)

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You’ll have to google RIPA Davis and see if you can find them.

          But part of the problem here is that you’re looking at the wrong criteria – “For no reason.” There is always a reason, even if they end up not giving a citation. Perhaps not always…

          From the article:

          “Almost any driver or pedestrian, if observed for long enough, will commit a low-level traffic infraction,” the SF policy notes. “A traffic stop, then, can become a way for officers to investigate the driver or passengers for evidence of otherwise not obvious criminal activity.”

          So the more interesting stuff is the search data not the citation data.

        2. Ron Oertel

          You’ll have to google RIPA Davis and see if you can find them.

          You’re the one suggesting that there’s a significant problem.

          But part of the problem here is that you’re looking at the wrong criteria – “For no reason.” There is always a reason, even if they end up not giving a citation. Perhaps not always…

          The “reason” is supposedly the criteria that police use in the first place.  That’s where the entire “controversy” arises, for some.

          From the article:
          “Almost any driver or pedestrian, if observed for long enough, will commit a low-level traffic infraction,” the SF policy notes. “A traffic stop, then, can become a way for officers to investigate the driver or passengers for evidence of otherwise not obvious criminal activity.”

          There is no evidence presented that this is occurring.  None.

          So the more interesting stuff is the search data not the citation data.

          Traffic violations are apparently the reason for the stops.

          As far as the reason for subsequent searches, that’s also something to potentially examine.

          How many subsequent searches (by skin color) turned up “nothing” (e.g., in terms of an arrest or citation) in Davis? Again – actual numbers, not percentages?

           

           

        3. Ron Oertel

          As noted by a commenter in another article, your readers aren’t likely going to do your work (as a journalist) for you.

          As such, your articles don’t consistently have a great deal of credibility – regardless of subject. You present an incomplete picture, at best.

          Fine with me.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Raise one other point here. When I used to be in academia, we would present papers at conferences often with data analysis. Sometimes people would ask if we had data on x,x,or y – often we didn’t. But sometimes we had access to that data. No one would ever demand that we present data that we hadn’t analyzed on the spot. Your request here is inappropriate. I directed you as to where to find it, that would seem to fulfill my obligation.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Thanks, but this goes deeper into the weeds than what I was wondering about.  (And appears to address the possibility that some groups commit more crimes than other groups, as well.)

          I would be shocked if there was ever – at any point in history (or into the future) if all groups committed crimes at the same rate.  (That goes for gender and age groups, as well.)

          What I was looking for is pretty simple, in regard to the subject of searches that you brought up.  For example:

          XX number of people having their cars searched, with no further police action (broken down by skin color, per year).

          The reason I ask is because I suspect that the number is relatively low.

          Of course, discrepancies in enforcement regarding skin color can also be impacted by relative ages of different groups, etc. It is not always as simple as one believes.

          There is not likely to ever be a provable cause/effect. (With the provable cause being disproportionate enforcement based upon skin color, for example.)

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Actually you asked for the number of people stopped, not the number searched.

            “Do the records show actual numbers of people stopped by police for “no reason” (in other words, no ticket given, no arrest, etc.) – broken down by skin color?”

            Ironically what I posted has the data you were looking for…

            Blacks were stopped 366 times the year of the RIPA data
            About 25 percent of the time they were searched – about 92
            About 25 percent of the time they found something – so about 23 times they found something, about 69 times they did not.

        5. Ron Oertel

          About 25 percent of the time they were searched – about 92
          About 25 percent of the time they found something – so about 23 times they found something, about 69 times they did not.

          Thanks. The numbers are higher than I would have expected for any given year.

          Are there comparable data regarding other skin colors?

          I have another question, as well (regarding any of these searches):

          In regard to “finding something”, were they already being arrested/cited for something else? (In other words, were the searches essentially routine under those circumstances?)

          Are the circumstances (criteria) of the searches described anywhere?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I don’t know – frankly I’m not that enamored with the way the police are tracking some of this data, it’s harder than necessary to decipher. They don’t track the circumstances of the searches.

            Yield rates for other groups:

            Hispanics: 33.9 percent
            White: 29.9 percent
            Asian: 26.1 percent

            Search Rates:

            White: 21.3 percent
            Hispanic: 19.2 percent
            Asian: 3.5 percent

            So Blacks have the lowest yield rate and the highest search rate. And by far the highest stop rate.

        6. Ron Oertel

          From the “yield rate”, it sounds like Hispanics, Whites, and Asians are getting somewhat of a “break” – in that order.  But it’s not an enormous difference.  With Asians being treated almost as “harshly” as blacks, if one looks at it that way.

          So, is one to conclude that the police like Hispanics, more than they do whites?  🙂 (In regard to both the yield and search rates?)

          The “search rate” doesn’t have much meaning, in-and-of-itself.

          In any case, I probably would ask the police department for their input regarding “yield” rates.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            The way most think about the search rate – the higher the yield rate means that the search was based on actual evidence of wrongdoing whereas the lower the yield rate makes it more likely bias and other factors contributed to the decision.

        7. Ron Oertel

          Yes, hence my question regarding whether or not the police like Hispanics, more than they do whites.

          (Somehow, I doubt that’s the case. Which causes me to think that one cannot arrive at such conclusions, based upon this type of data.)

          Asians certainly have a low “search rate”, for what that’s worth. (Probably not worth much, in regard to conclusions.) On a somewhat related note, I always find it strange that the “Asian” group in particular is so broadly-defined.

  4. Bill Marshall

    On a somewhat related note, I always find it strange that the “Asian” group in particular is so broadly-defined.

    How is that different than how “white” is defined so broadly?

    Which raises another issue — multi-racial individuals… I know lots of folk who are bi-racial, and one who would be properly called ‘tri-racial’… how do they fit into the stats?  Someone who is stopped and/or searched, who is half Latinx and half Asian, classified how?  I know folk who appear to be White, but are half black — classified how?

    The data collected, result posted here seem to imply/contend, you are ‘one thing’… which one, if you are multi-race?  Do they do DNA testing?  The data is somewhat ‘suspect’.  And will continue to be more so, as time goes on.

    I note that Native Americans appear to have the lowest (as in zero?) instances of stop and/or search.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Note that many ‘Latinx’ folk are at least bi-racial… ancestors who were Spanish (white), and Native American/Indigenous…

      So, is it about “race”, or “color”? The two are not synonymous…

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        It’s about data tracking discrete groups, Latinos for the most part are tracked a discreet group. Multiracial would be my kids – Black, white, Latino.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Multiracial would be my kids – Black, white, Latino.

          Arguably, it could also include Semitic folk…

          So, now you brought it up, if one of the kids was pulled over, and/or searched, who determines what discrete group the would be ‘logged in” as?  How would they be logged in?  You provide a technically correct answer, that does not answer the basic question… I fully expect you will not.

          Obfuscation?  Dissembling?  Denial of facts?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            They probably get categorized in the multi-racial group. But there is a bit of subjectivity in observed race/ ethnicity.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            Before you sneer at that – remember this has always been the case. There were people with light skin in the south, who *passed* as white to their great advantage.

  5. Bill Marshall

    Sometimes people would ask if we had data on x,x,or y – often we didn’t. But sometimes we had access to that data. No one would ever demand that we present data that we hadn’t analyzed on the spot. Your request here is inappropriate.

    Amen.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I think we ought to have an article defining which groups belong to which skin colors, to settle this once-and-for-all. Doing so would also help the police to enforce the law disproportionately, under pre-agreed-upon criteria. 🙂

      And then we can tackle gender (and any claimed law enforcement bias regarding that), which used to be a lot more simple (about 5 years ago).

      So far, we haven’t found a way to confuse anyone regarding age group.

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