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Police Reform Agenda Item Stirs Pot


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Editor's note: This article was updated at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to clarify the police union's opposition to the Commission's recommended policy change.

By Jorge Casuso

January 5, 2024 -- An unusually worded item on Tuesday's Police Reform Commission agenda has widened the rift over the hotly debated issue of racial profiling in traffic stops.

The special agenda item reads: "Discussion regarding efforts to prevent commission from briefing council on RIPA," referring to the State's Racial and Identity Profiling Act.

The item -- according to two commissioners -- was prompted by information from unnamed sources that the police union was blocking the commission's report recommending changes to SMPD's pretextual stop policy.

The proposed policy -- which mirrors the one adopted by LAPD last year -- limits pretextual stops, which are made for minor violations, such as a broken tail light, that can lead to investigating a more serious crime.

Under LAPD's policy, the officer making the stop must have “articulable information ... regarding a serious crime” and state the reason for all stops on body-worn video.

The Police Officers Association (POA) -- which strongly opposes the policy change -- said the Commission's agenda item was "based on nothing more than rumors" and that the POA "has not blocked nor attempted to block anything related to RIPA data."

The controversy stirred up by the item, said Mayor Phil Brock, is unfortunate and unwarranted. The Council has not placed the Commission's report on the agenda because it wasn't approved until November 30.

"It has not come to us and it would not come to us that quickly," Brock said. "This is not an emergency."

"It appears to me that they (the Commissioners) are trying to make up an issue," Brock said. "It's sort of crazy for them to say someone's trying to squelch the report."

Brock, who as mayor helps to set the agenda, noted that any Councilmember can have the Commission's findings and recommendations brought to the Council as a discussion item.

"It seems like there's this rush that puts all sides in a combative atmosphere," he said.

The Commission first approved its report to the Council on November 7, but the vote was deemed invalid because it was not adequately described on the agenda.

A second vote was taken in a hastily called meeting on November 30 ("Police Reform Commission Approves Racial Profiling Policy, Again," December 1, 2023).

The report was drafted after Police Department data released in July showed Black motorists were involved in a disproportionate number of traffic stops in Santa Monica last year ("Police Reform Commission Takes Up Identity Profiling," July 10, 2023).

It recommends the Police Department adopt LAPD’s policy that 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 POA and Police Department officials argue that SMPD officers, who are trained on bias-based policing, do not engage in racial profiling and that the Commission's recommendations would hamstring their efforts to fight crime.

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