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Does RPD Profile by Race?

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By Mary Shelton

Last week, the Riverside Police Department issued a report claiming that its officers did not engage in racial profiling at the same time it began soliciting the community for volunteers to serve on a panel addressing this issue.

Larry Gaines, who chairs the California State University, San Bernardino Criminal Justice Department, stated in his 32- page report that the department was not engaging in any racial profiling according to the statistics it provided on traffic stops last year. He had reached a similar conclusion in a report released last year that used statistics from traffic stops during 2000-01.

These findings surprised many, considering that allegations of racial profiling by officers have been made against the department for many years from civilians, at least one officer and even the State Attorney General’s office.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer decided after a lengthy investigation into the patterns and practices of racism within the department that the department had failed to adequately and properly supervise, monitor and train its officers, which resulted in vehicle stops that were not justified by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Lockyer stated in court documents that these stops led to unreasonable searches and seizures by officers, in violation of the state constitution.

As a result, the consent decree between the state and the city a mandate that the department audit the traffic stops made by its officers by race and gender and analyze the statistics on an annual basis.

Former officer and whistleblower Rene Rodriguez stated in a complaint he filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 1999 that field training officers taught newer officers to engage in racial profiling and to target African-American and Hispanic motorists for traffic stops.

He alleged that the officers even competed against each other to see who could impound the most vehicles driven by African-Americans and Hispanics. The department responded to his allegations by stating that it did not tolerate any form of racial profiling although Rodriguez experienced retaliation from officers who were upset when he came forward.

Even elected officials at City Hall clashed on this issue. At a meeting in 1999, former council member Alex Clifford said that driving while Black meant driving while criminal, a statement that drew strong disagreement from council member Ameal Moore.

Only two years into the consent decree, Gaines claimed that there is no racial profiling, even though both of his studies show African-American motorists being stopped and searched at a disproportionate rate compared to Whites.

In his 2002 report, Gaines defended these figures, stating that the traffic stops were occurring in high-crime neighborhoods and were to be expected as part of law enforcement’s reaction to crime and disorder. He believed that the department had provided its officers with intensified training in cultural diversity which prevented the officers from racially profiling.

Still, African-Americans are stopped disportionately by officers in the traffic and especially the patrol divisions according to the report. While African-Americans represent 7.1 percent of Riverside’s population, they represent 9.6 percent of all stops by the traffic division and 14.7 percent of those by the patrol division.

Hispanic motorists are slightly under- represented in traffic stops and slightly over-represented in patrol stops. White motorists are underrepresented in both traffic and patrol stops. Overall, the numbers of patrol stops had decreased and those conducted by traffic officers had increased.

When it comes to being searched by officers during traffic stops, there is even more disproportion among the different racial groups.

African-American motorists are searched at a higher rate than either White or Hispanic motorists even though those searches yield drugs, weapons or other contraband at nearly the same rate for all three groups.

African-Americans are searched 25 percent of the time, Hispanics, 21.3 percent and Whites, 17.7 percent. However, the “hit” rates for these searches were only 8 percent for African-Americans, 7.9 percent for Whites
and 5.4 percent for Hispanics.

The rate of searches for each race increased markedly from the previous year’s figures, doubling for every racial group except White motorists. The difference in the search rates for African-Americans and Whites has nearly tripled to 7.3 percent, from the previous year’s 2.9 percent.

However, Gaines concludes that although African-Americans are over-represented in the department’s stops, he attributes it to officers engaging in higher levels of enforcement in high crime areas rather than racial profiling. But the question has been asked, how can a department with so many problems with racial profiling mend its way in such a short period of time?

And despite this vote of confidence in its policies, the department has decided to seek assistance from the community in terms of training its officers.

Lt. John Wallace, who heads the department’s Attorney General Task Force said that the panels were being created to foster active dialogue between the diverse groups in the city and the department. Its implementation will serve also as a training session for a Police Officers Standards and Training post course on racial profiling.

Det. Michelle Jackson who is involved with the project, said that POST created the course in response to a state requirement for officers to complete a course in racial profiling by 2004 and interaction between the officers and the community is required as part of the curriculum.

The panel will meet with officers taking the course for 25-minute sessions to discuss issues including how the diverse communities feel about law enforcement and vice versa.

"It’s to help people get to know each other better," she said, because each side has perceptions of what the other is about. Whether it will chip away at the police culture which traditionally has equated being African-American with being criminal, remains to be seen.

Wallace added that there were also going to be several workshops to address the findings of the two racial profiling studies by Gaines including the one just released and approved by the City Council on March 11.

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