As I read Assemblyman Rocky Chavez’s commentary disparaging AB 953, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to curtail racial and identity profiling, I couldn’t help but wonder: Are we living in the same California? The same state where 80 people have been killed by law enforcement in 2015 alone?
As public servants who have been elected for and by the people of California, legislators have a duty to address the problems arising from biased policing. When the California Assembly voted to allow AB 953 to move forward, its members were responding to calls for justice that continue to reverberate throughout our state and the nation following the deaths of several unarmed people of color at the hands of police.
This isn’t a new problem and it certainly isn’t about playing the blame game – this is about ensuring that all Californians are treated with dignity and respect.
At the heart of this legislative proposal are two key and longstanding pillars of democracy: transparency and accountability. By collecting, analyzing and making basic information about police stops, searches and seizures public, we will be much better positioned to identify and address problems with biased policing where they exist.
A few jurisdictions, like the San Diego Police Department, already collect some of this information. The findings are cause for concern. A 2015 report by SDPD found that blacks were stopped twice as often as whites. They account for 12.3 percent of the vehicle stops, but only make up 5.8 percent of the driving age population.
Blacks were searched three times the rate of whites and Latinos twice the rate of whites. But following those searches, blacks and Latinos were less likely to be arrested.
Looking at the cold hard facts before tackling a problem is an approach we take with almost everything else. If there’s smoke coming out from the hood of your car, you don’t just ignore it. You pull over and try to figure out what’s wrong. Californians have lived experiences with racial profiling and use of force. We know disparate policing is a problem. But California still doesn’t collect or make available basic information about who the police stop, search and even shoot.
AB 953 would go one step further than just collecting data: It would establish an advisory board to analyze stop data and develop recommendations to address disparate policing. Nearly one-third of the board will be made up of law enforcement representatives, in addition to academics, community members and legislators.
This is a solution-driven approach to advance the public safety of all Californians. By establishing this board and taking steps to address biased policing, we will begin the slow and laborious process of repairing community trust in law enforcement.
Public safety isn’t only about policing. On the contrary, it is also about building trust and partnership between law enforcement and the communities they’ve sworn to serve and protect.
Ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away and most certainly will not be “beneficial to building healthier and safer communities in California,” to use Chavez’s words.
Police in the U.S. are on track to shoot and kill almost 1,000 people by the end of the year if current trends continue. Police conduct must be part of any reform conversation about ensuring that all Californians are truly treated with dignity and respect.
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is the ACLU of California’s criminal justice and drug policy director. She lives in San Diego. Dooley-Sammuli’s letter has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.