It is also important for agencies, district attorneys, and lawmakers to work with the communities they serve to develop their own policies to address pretextual stops in addition to looking at new types of traffic enforcement programs.
It is also important for agencies, district attorneys, and lawmakers to work with the communities they serve to develop their own policies to address pretextual stops in addition to looking at new types of traffic enforcement programs. Credit: Chris Allen, VOICE

S. E. Williams

On January 3, California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory (Board) released its 2023 Annual Report (Report), the sixth since the Board was formed in 2016.

Most readers will not be surprised to learn that overall, not much has changed for the better according to data presented in the report. In other words, the report highlights the same disparate trends in all aspects of law enforcement stops. This includes everything from the reason given for stopping a driver to actions taken during a stop to results of a stop.

Traffic Violations

A traffic violation was the most commonly reported reason for a stop and accounted for 86.6% of all stops. It was followed by pretextual stops or stops for “reasonable suspicion that the individual was engaged in criminal activity”. This was the case in 10.5% of all stops. These numbers reflect stops statewide and across all racial/ethnic groups. Blacks had the highest proportion of their stops reported as reasonable suspicion and the lowest proportion of their stops reported as traffic violations.

Not too dissimilar from findings revealed in last year’s report, individuals that officers perceived as Black were searched more often, detained on the curb or in a patrol car, handcuffed, and removed from a vehicle by order more often than any other group.

The Board compared the stop data to residential population data from the American Community Survey that was weighted to correspond with the jurisdictions of the reporting agencies. Black and Hispanic/ Latine(x) individuals represented a higher proportion of stopped individuals than their relative proportion of the weighted California residential population. (source: oag.ca.gov).

The data collected under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) over the last four years has provided verifiable evidence showing disparities in policing by local agencies throughout the state.  

Not only was there no noticeable improvement in the disparate treatment of Black and Brown people as it relates to traffic stops in this year’s report, the number of stops increased year over year (2021 vs 2020).

Locally, traffic stops by Riverside County sheriff deputies increased by 19,516 stops in 2021 or 34.6%. 

Recognizing traffic volumes were suppressed by the pandemic in 2020, it is interesting to note the differences between Riverside and San Bernardino Counties for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. San Bernardino has continued to reduce the number of traffic stops since 2019 (for many critics the number of traffic stops by San Bernardino County Sheriffs in 2019 appeared exorbitantly high). The Riverside Sheriff’s Department, on the other hand, seemed to make up for lost opportunities in 2020 with an exponential increase in traffic stops in 2021.

Traffic stops in Riverside County have continued to increase year over year since 2019, while traffic stops in San Bernardino County, although still too high, continue to decline. (Graphic by S.E. Williams).

This year’s Report also examines the negative impacts on mental health resulting from adverse law enforcement interactions on individuals and communities. The Report also explores youth interactions with law enforcement both in and out of school.

The Board noted that some law enforcement agencies, municipalities, and states are working to end pretextual stops and searches, limiting the use of fines and fees for traffic violations to reduce the fiscal impact of some pretextual stops; and are working to create a traffic program that involves unarmed civilians rather than law enforcement.    

George Floyd Police Reform Bill

May 25, 2023 will mark the third anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police. Despite the national uprising that followed in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and although there has been nominal change in California, not much has changed overall regarding traffic stops beyond accruing the data. Of course, data is important to proving the need for change. However, the George Floyd Police Reform Bill remains locked in the deadfile of the U.S. Senate and we seem unable to make incremental change on something as obviously disparate as pretextual traffic stops. 

The question is, Do we have courage in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to put an end to pretextual stops and adopt the other ideas detailed here? I believe that if we don’t, we certainly should. And we all know that power concedes nothing without a demand. We must continue to demand and push for change at all levels of government. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

In the coming week Black Voice News and IE Voice will provide a more indepth review of this Report.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.