Stockton, CA

Auditor finds California law enforcement agencies have not adequately guarded against biased conduct

Robert J Hansen

Most law enforcement agencies agreed with audits’ suggestions, except Stockton PD

Stockton, Calif.- by Robert J Hansen

The California Auditor uncovered actions of some law enforcement officers at four local departments who engaged in biased conduct, either during their on-duty interactions with individuals or online through their social media posts according to a report released on Tuesday.

The auditor made specific recommendations about steps each department can take to better ensure that Californians receive fair and impartial policing services.

“We also make several recommendations to the Legislature to better align expectations in state law with best practices for addressing bias in policing, such as by adopting a uniform definition of biased conduct, requiring more frequent and thorough training, and increasing independent oversight,” Acting California State Auditor, Michael Tilden said.

The audit selected internal investigations and public social media accounts to determine whether any officers were members of hate groups.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate group as "an organization whose primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons of or with a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity which differs from that of the members of the organization."

Although it did not identify evidence that any officers were members of hate groups, six officers posted content suggesting that they support groups with problematic principles or activities.

For example, one officer posted a statement defending the Proud Boys, a group that has expressed hostility toward women and Muslim individuals, saying that people who are against the Proud Boys are "in reality just against masculinity."

Stockton Police did not clearly state whether it would implement the Auditor’s recommendations but noted that it would analyze the audit and see how it can align its policies and procedures with best practices.

The audit reviewers a complaint Stockton Police received about social media posts made by an officer which promoted racial stereotypes and were demeaning toward women and people with disabilities.

Following the Stockton PD’s investigation of the the complaint, it found the officer had exhibited "unbecoming conduct" and had violated its policy on use of social media.

The officer was given a letter of reprimand as a discipline.

The biased conduct that the audit identified in four law enforcement departments likely occurred in part because the departments have not fully implemented comprehensive strategies for addressing bias within their organizations.

A crucial first step to providing bias-free law enforcement is adopting a formal policy against biased conduct which serves as the foundation for the department's efforts to address bias.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) states that a department's policy on bias should declare that biased conduct is prohibited, describe in detail what constitutes biased conduct, and outline key compliance mechanisms.

Of the four police departments, only the Stockton Police had no such policy.

As a result, the department lacks an important management tool for communicating expectations for standards of conduct for officers, as well as clear commitments to fairness for its communities.

To implement effective early intervention systems, departments must first collect quality information about officers' behavior.

One type of data is especially critical for identifying potentially biased behavior: data on the demographics of individuals whom officers stop, detain, search, arrest, or take other actions against traffic stops data.

Traffic Stops data are useful because they encompass common interactions officers have with the public.

Stockton Police is particularly limited in its approach to using stop data.

During a traffic stop, Stockton police officers pulled over a vehicle and while one officer finalized the stop, another officer approached a parked vehicle.

That officer then asked the man in the parked car if he was on probation or parole, something that the other non-Black driver was asked in the traffic stop.

When the man declined to answer he was detained and his car searched.

After nothing was found, he was accused of playing the “race card” and was told to leave the parking lot.

When the man refused he was arrested and his vehicle towed.
(California Auditor)

The Stockton officers had no authority to search the car, arrest him or tow his vehicle.

The only indicator used to identify officers who may need intervention is the number of complaints it has received about them.

Although complaints are a recommended component of early intervention systems, relying on them alone is a reactive and limited approach.

By their nature, complaints occur after possible misconduct has already occurred, while the goal of an early intervention system is to intervene to support officers before they act or react poorly to the situations in which they find themselves.

The lieutenant in Stockton Police's professional standards section which oversees its early intervention system stated that “the system's use of complaints as its only indicator is archaic and that adding other data, such as data on uses of force, would be helpful.”

He generally attributed the current system's limitations to disjointed data systems and the absence of policies or procedures to include various data in the early intervention system.

Stockton Police was, however, the only department with a Comprehensive Community Engagement Plan.

Stockton Police's strategic plan establishes a goal to increase trust between the department and its community.

One strategy it has to achieve this goal is conducting trust-building workshops, where members of the community and members of the department convene to promote healing through conversations.

According to the officer responsible for the team, Stockton Police provides information about the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office Victim-Witness Program, which that office advertises as providing a variety of services for crime victims, including crisis intervention.

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Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Focused on holding elected officials, police and the courts accountable to the people throughout the greater Sacramento area.

Sacramento County, CA

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