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Police Reform Commission Takes Up Identity Profiling

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By Jorge Casuso

July 10, 2023 -- Blacks were involved in a disproportionate number of traffic stops in Santa Monica last year compared the the size of their population, according to a report that will be presented to the Police Reform Commission on Tuesday.

The report was compiled by the Police Department under California's Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) that took effect in smaller cities, like Santa Monica, on January 1, 2021.

The report, however, cautions that drawing demographic conclusions is difficult because Santa Monica borders Los Angeles on three sides and its population can swell on an average holiday weekend from 90,000 to half a million.

"While this choice of comparison groups made the statistics straightforward and easy to understand, it did not do a thoughtful or precise job of comparing apples to apples," the report said.

The racial identity profiling compiled by SMPD in 2022 shows that Blacks were involved in 15.4 percent of the stops, while they made up 4.3 percent of Santa Monica's population and 9 percent of LA County's population.

Whites were involved in 49.1 percent of the stops, while making up 58.2 percent of Santa Monica's population and 25.3 percent of the County's population.

Hispanics were involved in 23.3 percent of the stops, while making up 20.7 percent of the city's population and 49.1 percent of the County's population.

While Asians were involved in 3.8 percent of the stops and made up 8.1 percent of Santa Monica's population and 15.6 percent of the population of LA County. (The remainder were made up by "other" and "not categorized.")

In a letter to The Lookout, two local Civil Rights leaders called pretextual stops, which are legal in California, "a particularly concerning type of stop" ("OPINION -- Traffic Stops and Race," June 23, 2023).

"Conducting such stops has been SMPD policy for decades," wrote Darrell Goode, president of the Santa Monica-Venice NAACP, and Michele Wittig, convener for the Santa Monica Coalition for Police Reform.

"A pretextual stop occurs when an officer stops someone for a lawful traffic violation or minor infraction, intending to use the stop to investigate a hunch regarding a different crime that by itself would not amount to reasonable suspicion or probable cause," they wrote.

"Many community members have years of lived experience enduring frequent pretextual traffic stops. Too many other community members are unaware of how many people unlike themselves are more frequently subjected to these stops."

On Tuesday, the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission will discuss the elimination of pretextual stops, which a proposed State law would limit for low-level violations.

The Santa Monica Police Officer Association (SMPOA) strongly opposes their elimination, arguing that such stops have "yielded more serious level offenses and allowed officers to remove dangerous drugs and weapons from our streets."

"We believe this is further anti-police rhetoric and we do not want to add legitimacy to a topic that is fundamentally flawed and undermines the rule of law," Kristina Cochran, vice-chairman of the SMPOA, wrote in a letter to the Commission dated April 17.

"We are committed to providing a safe community, and adamantly oppose a policy that would forbid low level traffic stops and take away law enforcement's ability to use a tool to proactively prevent crime and the victimization of those who live, work, and visit the City," the POA wrote.

The Police Department report notes that of the 333 suspects arrested for violent crimes -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- 126 (38 percent) were Black.

Whites accounted for 97 violent crime arrests (29 percent), while Hispanics accounted for 87 arrests (26 percent). Asians, other and not categorized accounted for the remaining 7 percent.

Of the 2,439 total arrests, Whites accounted for 860 arrests (35 percent), Hispanics for 724 arrests (30 percent), while Blacks accounted for 714 arrests (29 percent).

Asians, other and not categorized accounted for the remaining 6 percent.

Tuesday's Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Council chambers at City Hall.

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