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State study says California police departments receive few racial profiling complaints

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. (Ronen Tivony / TNS)
California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. (Ronen Tivony / TNS)

California police departments receive few formal complaints of racial profiling or other bias and find even fewer of them to be true, according to newly released data from Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.

Nearly three-fourths of the 451 law enforcement agencies surveyed by Becerra’s office reported no complaints in those areas in 2016.

Police agencies statewide reported they had received 553 complaints of racial, nationality, sexual orientation, disability or other bias, with 388 of those based on race or ethnicity. 

The agencies also said that internal investigations in 2016 found that only 10 incidents of such bias had actually occurred, half of which were in San Francisco. For racial or ethnicity bias, five complaints, including two involving the Los Angeles Police Department, were proven.

The data track complaints and the results of internal investigations separately, so it’s unclear how many of the bias complaints filed in 2016 were actually resolved in the same year.

The data collection arises out of a 2015 law known as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act. The law ultimately will also require all police departments in the state to collect race and other demographic data on traffic and pedestrian stops in an effort to combat racial profiling.

Many law enforcement leaders have opposed the legislation, saying that police racial profiling is rare.

But the Rev. Ben McBride, co-chairman of a board that advises Becerra on how to implement the 2015 law, said the data released by the attorney general don’t match what he’s heard from community members about the prevalence of profiling.

“That low number is something that is concerning for me,” said McBride, who is co-director of community organizing group PICO California. “I won’t say that local law enforcement is lying without having the proof to do so. What I will say is that we do have a history of local enforcement being dishonest across the state in terms of protecting a culture of what I call ‘blue-manity’ instead of humanity.”

McBride said he hopes the data and the accompanying report released by Becerra’s office will prompt improvements in police departments’ complaint processes so that community members will feel more comfortable filing them.

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