The Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) meeting this week was dominated by the discussion surrounding the interplay of who is pulled over in Santa Monica for traffic violations and why those stops occur in the first place.
The meeting essentially revolved around two items, firstly the Santa Monica Police Department’s 2022 Racial and Identity Profile Act (RIPA) report and secondly the debate surrounding “pretextual” traffic stops.
Pretextual stops are interactions in which officers conducting a minor traffic or code violation escalate it into an investigation of a more serious crime unrelated to the initial violation.
The stops are the subject of state efforts to limit their use and while critics say they amount to racial profiling, supporters say they are a logical investigative method.
Discussions over their use locally were quickly combined with analysis of the department’s RIPA data that breaks down all traffic stops by the race of the driver.
In 2015, the state passed something called the Assembly Bill Number 953, also known as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA. This requires that law enforcement agencies in California collect perceived demographic data from specified police interactions and as such, the Santa Monica Police Department began collating data on January 1, 2021.
White drivers represented 49.1 percent of stops, 58.2 percent of the city’s population and 25.3 percent of the county population. Latino drivers are 23.3 percent of the stops, 20.7 percent of the city’s population and 49.1 percent of the county population. Black drivers are 15.4 percent of stops, 4.3 percent of the city and 9 percent of the county. Asian drivers are 3.8 percent of stops, 8.1 percent of the city and 15.6 percent of the county. Middle Eastern/South Asian drivers are 7.3 percent of stops but their demographics were not available for the city and county.
Both Lieutenant Erika Aklufi and Deputy Chief of Police, Darrick Jacob, highlighted the potential problems in attempting to gather accurate data that reflects the population and demographic structure of the city necessary to calculate comparisons based on percentages.
“There were 16 data points that we were instructed to use to collect this data,” Jacob said, “And we’ve added two more, we’ve had to, because of our homeless population. And we knew, just anecdotally, that we didn’t really stop a lot of our own residents in our city. A lot of the folks who were arrested, a lot of the people that we dealt with were outside of our city.”
According to the city, Santa Monica’s residential population is approximately 93,000, increasing to an estimated 250,000 during the day with tourists, shoppers, and employees. That’s an increase of 268 percent.
The Commission voted nine to one to instruct the Inspector General to conduct an audit on how the SMDP arrived at the conclusions made in the report in addition to a review of the methodologies used to obtain the data, thus determining its validity.
The motion, made by Commissioner Angela Scott and seconded by Commissioner Dante Harrington, included a move to identify even more data points, “that would be helpful in better understanding the situation in Santa Monica.”
Only Commissioner Joseph Palazzolo voted against the motion.
“I guarantee you, that’s going to cost millions of dollars,” Jacob said. “Putting up cameras and stuff like that, because we don’t know unless we poll every employer what the racial makeup is. Unless we do random studies of people who come to the Promenade. Unless we have people visiting the beach every day, trying to get a sample number of folks there. That is incredibly difficult with nine million visitors a year.”
The Commission took no action on the issue of pretextual stops and the RIPA data includes more than just traffic information.
In order to conform to the California Code of Regulations, the information was gathered during interactions that resulted in either a detention of any kind or any in which the officer conducted a search based on either a consensual search or reasonable suspicion. The data collection did not apply to any officer-initiated activity, or proactive, only citizen initiated activity, or reactive.
According to the data from police reports, violent crime suspect descriptions were as follows, African American were 38 percent, white was 29 percent, Hispanic was 26 percent and Asian was 1 percent. Although females account for 51 percent of the Santa Monica population (according to US Census Bureau population estimates from July 1, 2021), males are more than twice as likely to be stopped at 69 percent than females at 31 percent.
Speaking to the Daily Press, Aklufi stressed how much of a challenge even attempting to parse data that accurately reflects every possible outcome is, comparing the task to writing a “choose your own adventure” book. Aklufi also said that this matter will almost certainly be raised in a future City Council meeting where it will be further scrutinized, but no date or agenda item has so far been set.