Monday Morning Thoughts: Concerns about Policing and Racial Profiling Creep into Satisfaction Survey

Davis Police Car

Davis Police CarBy David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Concerns about crime—even violent crime which remains exceedingly rare in Davis, have creeped up in the latest satisfaction survey, and while policing has an overall 70 percent satisfaction rating (+41), that number is much lower than it has been in the past.

Moreover, the biggest concerns of the public are not nuisance crimes like car and home break-ins or public drug use or even violent crime, but rather homelessness and people experiencing mental health crises.

“Although many are concerned about crime, especially car and home break-ins, concerns about people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises are higher overall,’ the survey found.

These are things that could be addressed by the city’s shift toward a social services department and to a Crisis Now response team.

In addition, more than half are now very or somewhat concerned about racial profiling and other bias in policing.

The data is somewhat plagued by low sample sizes for people of color, with the overall data reflecting the views largely of white residents.  However, the survey found that “we do see higher levels of concern intensity about bias in policing among respondents who are not white or Asian. Overall concern is higher among Asian and African-American respondents.”

Sample size issues suggest the need to perhaps follow up with surveys that over-sample people of color to get a better perspective.

Overall the attitude toward the police remains positive with 84 percent being comfortable calling the police in an emergency, 82 percent personally reported their interactions as positive (though 17 percent strongly disagree seems like a high number), and 85 percent say police respond promptly to 911 calls.

What is perhaps more interesting is that, by a 55-44 split, the public is narrowly divided on whether the city would benefit from more police officers on patrol.  By a 59-39 margin—again perhaps surprisingly close—most do not believe that the police department is overfunded, and, by a 58-42 split, most do not worry about being a victim of crime.

These data especially on racial profiling reflect a sea change in public attitudes on policing that has occurred over the last six years or so, perhaps dating back locally to the 2017 Picnic Day incident as well as the national discourse on policing since George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

In response, the city has removed some functions of policing, especially the Homeless Coordinator, from the police department and moved them to a newly-created Department of Social Services.  The city has also moved toward implementing a Crisis Now Model.

But the one area that the council has not touched yet is the area of most concern based on now both stats and anecdotal evidence.  This survey should continue to feed into that need.  And while the council has been proactive in terms of the Department of Social Services and Crisis Now, they have lagged on responses to police stops, which in my view remains the biggest problem for policing in Davis—by far.

The data that has emerged mirrors that of the rest of the nation.  Black and brown people are more likely to be stopped by police than whites.  Blacks are nearly six times more likely to stopped, which is much higher than the state average and, once stopped, they are more likely to be searched—but when they are searched they are less likely to be found with contraband.

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 same research, however, finds that Black vehicles that are searched are actually less likely to contain contraband than white vehicles that are searched—the presumption seeming to be that they are searching white people based more on objective factors than on pretext or prejudicial guesswork.

Davis is just as bad here, if not worse, than other areas.

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.”

There have been a variety of changes implemented elsewhere including the elimination of police stops for non-moving violations or what has been referred to as quality-of-car stops, enforcement of jaywalking and other stops for minor infractions without evidence of other obvious criminal activity and, finally, ending “baseless searches during traffic stops.”

Baseless searches are “essentially random searches (at best) and are only marginally effective when compared to other readily available and less-intrusive investigative tactics.”

Empirical data shows that “consent searches are largely ineffective.”  They also “disproportionately impact Black and Brown people.”

Data across the country including in Davis show police disproportionately search Black and Brown people and yet find contraband when they do less frequently than for white people.

The council has not acted on this aspect of police reform, but now they have further reason to do so.

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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  1. PhillipColeman

    “Although many are concerned about crime, especially car and home break-ins, concerns about people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises are higher overall,’ the survey found.”

    Homelessness and Mental Health disabilities suffered by our fellow human beings are not violations of any criminal code in California. These are social issues that should not be categorized as being the responsibility of an agency charged with enforcing criminal statutes, but they are anyway.

    When dissatisfied citizens witness these long-neglected and largely ignored human needs and want the appropriate government agency to intervene (say at 11:30 PM on a Saturday night) only one governmental agency answers the phone. Local police are already understaffed to perform their primary responsibility of crime detection and prevention, but they are compelled to respond because nobody else can or will.

    So as a convenient solution, we once again climb back on the merry-go-round and say we should divert funds from the local police and assign it to some element of Social Services, a function of county government. Easy-peasy, let’s do that.

    Then we ask the director of the county health department for a cost estimate to staff a 24-7 first-response team to serve the mental health demands of all of Yolo County. When the response is a staggering increase in the current county Social Services department (and the DPD would have to be virtually abolished to divert its share of the necessary funding) no further action is taken Except, that is, for the continuing futile and naive dialog from advocates who have never prepared or even read an entire local government budget and balanced it against existing tax revenue.


    1. David Greenwald

      “So as a convenient solution, we once again climb back on the merry-go-round and say we should divert funds from the local police and assign it to some element of Social Services, a function of county government. Easy-peasy, let’s do that.”

      As I understand it, the local proposal does not shift funds, it creates new positions which ill have to be funded when grant money runs out.

  2. Robert Canning

    One should take the results of the survey with a grain of salt. The survey summary prepared by the City (and the consultants) does not say what the universe of possible Davis residents was. What list did they use to pick these 500 people from? How many attempts did they make to get their 500 respondents? This may be asking too much of a slide deck for the City Council, but it’s important information to evaluate the survey and its results.

    On page 3 (Methodology) there is a table showing that the last few surveys were of “Davis voters.” This survey does not specify who the respondents were but does say it is a survey of “residents.” We can assume that most (84%) were voters since the Party Registration breakdown on page 6 notes only 16% non-voters. So right off the bat, we should assume that this survey is really about Davis VOTERS – not the whole population. According to the Yolo elections website 2/3 of Davis voting age residents are registered to vote. So what about the other 1/3/ of Davis residents? My hunch is that many of them are 1) minorities (who register at lower rates than whites); 2) low income; or 3) are long-term non-voters.

    The survey also indicates that 51% of respondents were older than 45 years of age. According to the American Community Survey (ACS) the median age of residents in Davis is 26 suggesting the survey is skewed toward older residents. (I don’t know what the median age is for voting-age adults – I could not find it. But the proportion of under-18s in Davis is small so my guess is that the median is probably still at or around 30).

    Also, the ethnic breakdown chart is weird. It only adds up to 92% (63% White, 29% non-White). The ACS found 63% White vs. 37% non-White. Maybe it was a typo.

    Because the survey is only about an older voting population, the questions about attitudes about policing (is crime up, are you happy with your interactions with DPD, is there profiling, etc.) might be skewed in favorable ways for some questions and in the opposite way for others if the sample was more representative. For instance, if the proportion of non-voters were more representative, the concern about profiling might be even higher (non-voters tend to be more alienated groups and thus have more negative attitudes toward authorities.)

    So, yeah, this is nitpicking, but it’s important when looking at this kind of survey data to know who was surveyed and whether there are selection biases and what that. means for policy going forward.

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