In summary

California created a statewide board for police oversight; now is the time to pressure the Racial & Identity Profiling Act board to continue its mandate.

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By Karen S. Glover, Special to CalMatters

Karen S. Glover is an associate professor of Sociology, Criminology & Justice Studies at California State University, San Marcos,

There is a long history of calls for increased accountability of law enforcement in the U.S., but the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others provide new examples of the need for better oversight. And recent protests throughout the U.S. and in California over the criminalization and devaluing of Black lives have made these calls even more urgent.

But as it turns out, a potentially powerful mechanism to help hold law enforcement accountable for racial profiling already exists in California law. It’s time we took advantage of it.

In 2016, the Legislature approved Assembly Bill 953, the Racial & Identity Profiling Act. The act requires that law enforcement agencies collect and report officer-perceived identity information, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental health and national origin of community members during traffic stops.

The legislation also mandated the formation of an advisory board, known as the RIPA (Racial & Identity Profiling Act) board. The board is made up of law enforcement practitioners, academics and community advocates. These members are required to collaborate with California Department of Justice staff to review, analyze, research, consult and provide policy recommendations “for the purpose of eliminating racial and identity profiling and improving diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement.” The RIPA board is also mandated to produce a public report each year on their work. 

Mandatory meetings are held three times a year across Northern, Central and Southern California. The board formed subcommittees to focus their work on five aspects of the accountability process. They are the subcommittees on State and Local Racial & Identity Profiling Policies and Accountability, POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Training and Recruitment, Civilian Complaints, Calls for Service, and Stop Data Analysis. Each subcommittee does important work and meaningfully engages public input that is offered.

As a law enforcement and racism scholar and interested community member, I have participated in several public meetings and witnessed advances in data collection, analysis and thoughtful discussion. This is particularly important given the non-existent, weak or sporadic efforts at similar examinations in the past. 

In California, because of the approval of AB 953 four years ago, a legislative mechanism is in place to more fully document, understand and develop processes to counter law enforcement practices and abuses of power in Black communities in particular.

The Racial & Identity Profiling Act came about because of an increased statewide and national recognition that communities of color were due the accountability – sometimes in the form of very basic data on law enforcement – long held from them.  But there is a need for more community input into the work of the Racial & Identity Profiling Act.

So far, community input has been limited due to a lack of awareness about the law. Community members are needed to take part in the available opportunities to educate the board so the community-based-knowledge the Racial & Identity Profiling Act was grounded on is honored.

We can also use the annual reports for community advocacy around policymaking and to possibly generate other important points of investigation into and action around law enforcement practices in California. 

We should look at what the RIPA board work focuses on and what it may be neglecting. Clearly, advocates and other community representatives who hope to continue the momentum of current street protests could use RIPA board as a forum to continue holding law enforcement accountable for racial discrimination. To miss this opportunity would be a great loss.

Now is the time to actively pressure the RIPA board. Educate yourselves and your communities about its work to date and organize. The board and its committees give us the opportunity to communicate our interests and suggestions directly to the RIPA board by email, letter or attendance at public meetings – in person or virtually. 

We need to pressure the RIPA board to continue its mandate with more urgency, with more focus on accountability, and with more input from, and emphasis on, the lived experiences of communities of color with law enforcement. 

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