By Jorge Casuso
November 6, 2023 -- The City's Police Reform Commission on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a report that addresses whether Santa Monica police are making traffic stops based on race and, if so, what can be done to address the issue.
The report comes after Police Department data released in July show Black motorists were involved in a disproportionate number of traffic stops in Santa Monica last year compared the the size of their population ("Police Reform Commission Takes Up Identity Profiling," July 10, 2023).
The 2022 data compiled by SMPD under California's Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) 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.
In its presentation to the Commission July 11, police officials cautioned that drawing demographic conclusions is difficult because Santa Monica is a tourist destination with a population that can swell from 90,000 to half a million on a holiday weekend.
The Commission's report calls the data "a red flag that needs addressing" because the numbers reflecting the tourist population "aren’t equally inflated" across racial groups.
"Unless the tourism population is a wave of minorities while there is an exodus of white people, the data seems inconsistent with the population," the report says. "It certainly doesn’t explain the difference in stops for equipment violations."
Agreeing with police officials "that data will demonstrate different patterns depending on questions asked," the Commission "has tasked its inspector general to audit SMPD’s methodology for compiling data and see if additional data points would offer more clarity."
The Commission's report notes that the SMPD currently has "extensive training on implicit bias" but no established policy on pretextual stops.
It recommends the Department adopt the LAPD’s policy, which places clear safeguards "to limit the potential for racially biased stops while still preserving the police officer’s ability to investigate based on reasonable suspicion, regarding a serious crime."
The policy requires officers to state the public safety reason for all traffic/pedestrian stops, citations and warnings on body-worn video (BWV) and "include an officer's response to any questions posed by the individual stopped."
Officers should only make stops "for minor equipment violations or other infractions" if they believe "such a violation or infraction significantly interferes with public safety."
The policy also bars pretextual stops "unless officers are acting upon articulable information in addition to the traffic violation, which may or may not amount to reasonable suspicion, regarding a serious crime."
The crimes covered include driving under the influence (DUI), reckless driving, street racing, street takeovers, hit and run, human or narcotics trafficking, gun violence, burglary or another similarly serious crime.
The Santa Monica Police Officer Association (SMPOA) -- which strongly opposes the elimination of pretextual stops -- argues they have "yielded more serious level offenses and allowed officers to remove dangerous drugs and weapons from our streets."
The Police Department's report to the Commission in July noted 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.