By David M. Greenwald
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.