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New California Law Aims To Curb Racial Profiling By Police

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 Matt Ferner
ATHENA IMAGE © SAUL LOEB via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

California police will have to publicly report race and other demographic characteristics of any person stopped by officers under a new law intended to respond to high-profile deaths of unarmed black men and charges of  racial profiling.

The law, authored by state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D) and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) over the weekend, expands the state's formerly vague definition of racial profiling to include “identity profiling” based on gender, national origin or other characteristics protected against discrimination. The law requires law enforcement agencies to record the racial and identity characteristics of any person stopped or detained. 

“It simply provides basic transparency about what officers are doing out on the street,” Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney and director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told The Huffington Post. “And this law makes California the national leader in terms of the data it is collecting.”  

A recent string of deaths at the hands of police officers -- from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, to Eric Garner in New York -- sparked unrest and national outcry about the need for police reform, especially in communities of color. Police unions blasted the new law as unnecessary, while reform activists hailed it as a critical tool to analyze police practices.

“This is a joke,” Craig Lally, president of the police union Los Angeles Police Protective League, told HuffPost.  

“All of this money is going to be wasted and it’s not going to prove anything, I guarantee you that,” Lally added. “If an officer has probable cause to make a stop, there’s absolutely no way you can prove racial profiling unless you get into that officer’s head.”

Lt. Steve James, president of the Long Beach Officers Association and the national trustee for the California Fraternal Order of Police -- which called on Brown to veto the bill -- said the new legislation is “terrible.” He said it would create more paperwork for officers, taking away time on the streets, and seeks to solve a problem he doesn’t believe exists.

"There is no racial profiling. There just isn't," James told the Los Angeles Times . "There is criminal profiling that exists."

Lt. Jeff Hallock, spokesman for Orange County Sheriff's Department, told HuffPost that the department expects the law to have minimal impact on operations, except for additional paperwork, because of policies already in place.

“Our deputies are professionals and trained to profile criminal activity, regardless of race, utilizing reasonable suspicion as defined by the Fourth amendment,” Hallock said.

Data generated under the law will be compiled by the state attorney general’s office and overseen by the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, a group created by the law that will include law enforcement, government, civil rights and community representatives. 

Data that the state attorney general already has access to reveals racial disparity in arrests and jailing across the state, The Associated Press reported . Seventeen percent of arrests and about 25 percent of deaths in custody involve blacks. Young black males are about 25 percent more likely than whites to be jailed in the state.

Melina Abdullah, a pan-African studies professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and member of the LA chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, told HuffPost that the bill's passage represents a “huge victory” for the state that will curb racial profiling.

“They’re of course exaggerating about the amount of paperwork that this will produce,” Abdullah said. “But if that were a real consideration for them, then maybe they should only make stops that are really around keeping the community safe rather than then the harassment and intimidation of people of color.”

Bibring said that the bill doesn’t require departments to change how they conduct stops or searches. It just asks them to report what they are doing.

“For police to say that profiling doesn’t happen so we don’t even need to collect information about it is offensive," Bibring said. “We give police tremendous authority to stop people, to search them, to use force and potentially to shoot people. And in order to make sure that authority is being used correctly, we need transparency into what they are doing.”

The law won’t go into effect for several more years. Some of the largest police departments will start reporting the demographic data in 2019. Smaller departments will begin in 2023.

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