Mercury News editorial: California needs a law to quantify police profiling

In the wake of unnerving incidents of police violence against civilians across the country, communities and police departments struggle with how to build trust in the face of what’s perceived as racial or ethnic profiling.

California’s Legislature can take that all-important first step to help by passing Assembly Bill 953.
The bill would require police to keep records of car and pedestrian stops including the race or other identifier of the individual, the reason for the stop, how the person was treated and whether an arrest or citation resulted.
That’s it. No limits on who can be stopped or how to behave. Just check the boxes, scribble a few words and turn in reports. Department compilations would be sent to the attorney general.
The point is to establish facts rather than having to parse anecdotal evidence of ethnic communities’ worst fears and police departments’ rigid denials. Agreed-upon facts are the baseline for solving any problem. But to hear police associations and other law enforcement groups, you’d think the bill required officers to approach cars by walking on their hands. The proposal is in trouble, and that’s a shame for officers as well as the communities they serve.
There’s no need to speculate about whether this can work. It’s already working in California’s third largest city, San Jose.
In 2014 San Jose officers began keeping records of car stops at the recommendation of then-Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell, who regularly heard from groups and individuals that police stopped blacks and Latinos more often and treated them like criminals. When the first statistics came out, sure enough, blacks and Latinos were stopped in numbers far higher than their proportion of the population and were more often ordered out of their cars, yet seldom were arrested.
But here’s the thing. These were records compiled by officers themselves and released by the department. So rather than an explosion of protest, frank discussion began. For example, how much of the disparity is a result of more police patrols in high-crime areas? The conversation and will continue as further analysis and more records are available.

San Jose police, short staffed and over worked, may not be thrilled to be doing this, but building community trust will make them safer and more effective in their work.

The ACLU, joined by several other social justice groups, sponsored AB 953. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is carrying the bill to basically take the San Jose practice statewide and to establish an advisory board to study the results and work on solutions.

In communities wracked by racial and ethnic divisions, no facts could be worse than imagined outrages that become real in people’s minds. When civilians and police can look at a set of numbers everybody agrees is accurate, the conversation is very different and solutions become possible.

Pass the profiling bill and get the statewide conversation started.

http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_28745434/mercury-news-editorial-california-needs-law-quantify-police