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A California advisory board comprised of law enforcement and public officials has called for police agencies in the state to regularly check officers’ department-issued cellphones, computers and social media activity for any racist or otherwise offensive content that would lend to disproportionate policing based on biases.
The controversial recommendation, announced Monday, was based on the board’s analysis of nearly 4 million vehicle and pedestrian stops by California’s 15 largest law enforcement agencies in 2019.
The Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report was unveiled amid calls to defund police departments and promises from state lawmakers to renew efforts to strip badges from bad officers, make more police misconduct records public, and allow community groups to handle mental health and drug calls where police powers may not be needed.
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Reform efforts have often focused on increasing training to make officers aware of how their implicit, or unconscious, bias may affect their interactions. Starting this year, a new California law requires agencies to screen job applicants for implicit and explicit biases.
Explicitly racist or bigoted social media posts by some law enforcement officers appear to be a widespread problem nationwide, it said, citing a study by the Plain View Project that examined the Facebook accounts of 2,900 active and 600 retired officers in eight departments across the country.
In California, current and former San Jose Police Department officers were found to have shared racist Facebook posts in the past. Other agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and San Francisco Police Department, have been involved in similar issues.
The board found that Black individuals, or people who appear to be Black, were most frequently stopped for reasonable suspicious as opposed to a traffic violation. The report describes reasonable suspicion as "a legal standard in criminal law that requires an officer to point to specific articulable facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime is, was, or is about to occur."
According to the report, 21% of police stops involving Black individuals were for reasonable suspicion, whereas 74.4% were for traffic violations. People who were described as multiracial were stopped 13.2% of the time for reasonable suspicion.
Los Angeles Police Headquarters (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
People who were perceived as Black were more than twice as likely to be stopped as their percentage of the population would suggest, the board said in its fourth annual report.
Additionally, Black individuals were searched at 2.5 times the rate of people perceived as White.
And the odds were 1.45 times greater that someone perceived as Black had force used against them during a traffic stop compared to someone perceived as White. The odds were 1.18 times greater for people perceived as Latino.
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"Unchecked explicit bias may lead to some of the stop data disparities we have observed," the board said. The social media and technology checks should be conducted to ensure the officers are not exhibiting racist behavior, the report says.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League’s board of directors said the disproportionate numbers could be driven by demographics, rather than racism.
"What these numbers don’t tell is that in Los Angeles, 70% of violent crime victims are either Black or Hispanic and that 81% of the reported violent crime suspects are either Black or Hispanic," the league said.
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Chief Eric Nuñez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association said police departments "demand fair and impartial police services for the communities they serve," but said the state board’s recommendations "would require a significant additional funding source, time and legal issues that have not been properly identified or researched at this point."
Both the league and the state sheriffs’ association said the broader issue of racial bias must be addressed across society, not just law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Betty Williams, president the NAACP’s Sacramento Branch, said the recommendation doesn’t go far enough and should also include officers’ personal cellphones.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.