Police to begin collecting Racial and Identity Profiling Act data

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com
Beginning January 1, the Claremont Police Department will begin collecting, and reporting “perceived demographic and other detailed data” on all pedestrian and vehicle stops, in compliance with California state law.
The California Legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) in 2015, which requires all law enforcement agencies to collect demographic data beginning with the largest agencies, which were required to comply by July 1, 2018, and the smallest, including Claremont, which must have a program in place by January 1, 2022. Claremont will have to report its data to the Department of Justice annually beginning in April of 2023. The data will also be presented to the police commission quarterly.
“The data to be collected includes the perceived race or ethnicity, gender, and approximate age of the person stopped, as well as other data such as the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, and the results of any such search,” Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen said in a report to the Claremont Police Commission earlier this month.
Officers will receive a prompt from the department-issued mobile computer once a stop or call for service has been completed, to fill out the RIPA form. There will be an option to bypass, however, supervisors will be auditing the RIPA data to ensure the department is in compliance and to make sure the data contains no personal information of the person stopped. Agencies currently collecting RIPA data report that it takes eight to 10 minutes to complete the form.
Last week police supervisors completed the RIPA training and the department began testing the system in advance of going live this coming January.
Information that will be collected includes the date, time, and duration of the stop; the perceived race or ethnicity of a person; gender, age, disability; whether the individual is perceived to be LGBTQ and whether the person is fluent in English. Additionally, the officer will report the reason for the stop, any action that was taken, as well as the officer’s assignment and years of experience.
For the purposes of the act, a stop is defined as any detention of a person by a peace officer or any interaction with a person in which the officer conducts a search of that person’s body or property in the person’s possession, or under that person’s control.
A detention refers to “the seizure of a person by an officer that results from physical restraint, unequivocal verbal commands, or words or conduct by an officer that would result in a reasonable person believing that he or she is not free to leave or otherwise disregard the officer.”
“Any time an officer is making a traffic stop or gets sent on calls for service where they are detaining somebody or there is a search, a RIPA form must be conducted,” Lieutenant Mike Ciszek said during the police commission meeting.
To provide an example of how perception would be applied in the RIPA data, Ciszek described how he was escorting a young man out of a football game last month and the youth was communicating with another young person who was walking toward him. In the dark, Ciszek initially thought the person approaching was a woman but as it turns out it was a man with long hair.
“I was wrong in that [instance] but that was still a perception. So if that had occurred in my stop, in dealing with this young man, I would have had to write it down [in RIPA] as a female,” Ciszek said.
Commissioner Becky Margiotta asked about “over identification” of suspicious persons by Claremont residents who might call the police unnecessarily, adding, “Would that count as a stop?”

Ciszek said it would have to actually be a detention to be considered a stop. So, if the police were having a consensual encounter with someone who was reported by another resident that would not be recorded into the RIPA database.
“Just because somebody else thinks they are suspicious doesn’t mean we think they are suspicious, and we have to treat them with respect like anyone else,” he said.
If in the process of asking questions, such as “are you on probation or parole?” it could be considered a stop if that person believes they are not free to leave. Also, if someone voluntarily invites a search, it would still need to be reported on the RIPA form.
Commissioner Margiotta also wanted to establish baseline demographic data well in advance of receiving the first RIPA report, but felt it could not be limited to Claremont’s 2020 census numbers because of the large number of visitors and people who just drive through town.
Ciszek responded that creating a baseline would be difficult because of the wide range of different groups which may come to town, including college students or if there was an event that attracted a specific demographic. He said the DOJ has published stop data from the other agencies that have been reporting to RIPA, which is publicly available, so one could see how those agencies are doing compared with the racial makeup of the state of California.
Commissioner Rafik Mohamed asked whether there was a plan at the department or city level to analyze the data, explore and reflect upon what it means, or whether the intention was just to collect and report.
Ciszek said the idea is to collect and report, but the department will be looking at the data and the police commission itself will be examining the results. So, if something looks suspicious or needs further investigation, that can be done.
Commissioner Rolondo Talbott asked whether there was any standardized training for the officers or a plan to implement such training that examines biases and perceptions when it comes to collecting this kind of data.
Ciszek said this has been part of the current training, as he talks to the officers about perception. He provided the example of a person who might be light-skinned African American but who actually is Hispanic. But he said that could still be the perception of the officer because it is subjective.
“The thing I am telling the officers, ‘is a perception wrong?’ Not as long as it is your honest perception and you are not looking at an ID card or you are not looking at something you could actually gather that data from,” Ciszek said. “Because that is what the state is looking for, are we racially profiling based on our perception?”

 

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