On January 7, 2023, five officers from the Memphis Police Department pulled over Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, for reckless driving and brutally beat him for several minutes. Tyre was hospitalized and died three days later from extensive bleeding caused by his injuries. Three weeks later, released camera footage of the violent encounter sent shockwaves across the nation. Upon release of the footage, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis publicly stated that the department was unable to substantiate the claim that Tyre had been driving recklessly. Since then, six police officers have been fired, and five of those officers have been criminally charged in Tyre’s death. Several other police employees and public safety personnel have also been fired or suspended.
All too often, traffic and pedestrian stops turn fatal for individuals who are stopped, especially for unarmed people of color. Their names include Tyre Nichols, Keenan Anderson, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Duante Wright, and many others. With each unnecessary death, there are renewed calls for police reform to prevent these tragedies from recurring and hold officers responsible when they do.
Data on policing plays a vital role in police accountability and transparency. Such data can expose disparities and injustices in policing, help the public and system professionals to understand those problems, and assist in creating and evaluating police reforms. Nevertheless, data and other meaningful information on policing across the United States is spotty at best. To address this issue, several states have enacted laws that require law enforcement agencies to collect and report information to various degrees on civilian encounters with police and complaints of police misconduct. These laws are vital in improving police data collection and helping communities identify, address, and prevent racial and other forms of identity profiling in law enforcement.
California is one state leading the way in this area. In 2015, California passed the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), which requires law enforcement agencies in California to collect and report “perceived demographic and other detailed data regarding pedestrian and traffic stops.” A key purpose of RIPA is to eliminate racial and other forms of identity profiling in law enforcement policies and practices across the state. Since 2018, the RIPA Advisory Board has released annual reports that analyze data collected each year under RIPA, review relevant law enforcement policies and practices in the state, and provide recommendations for best practices in policing. This article summarizes key findings and recommendations from the latest annual RIPA report released in January 2023. Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Bd., Annual Report 2023 (Jan. 1, 2023) [hereinafter 2023 RIPA Report].
Utility of RIPA Data for Attorneys and Other Stakeholders
Before discussing the details of the 2023 RIPA Report, it is important to first explain why stakeholders should care about RIPA data and how RIPA data can assist attorneys, judges, lawmakers, community advocates, law enforcement members, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders in their work. RIPA is now widely recognized as a model statute for stop data collection. In May 2023, a working group of the National Science and Technology Council—the primary body through which the federal executive branch coordinates science and technology policy across federal agencies—identified California’s RIPA as well as Connecticut’s Alvin Penn Racial Profiling Act as pioneering models of police stop data collection that capture race and ethnicity. Nati’l Sci. & Tech. Council, Equity and Law Enforcement Data Collection, Use, and Transparency (May 2023). The comprehensiveness of the types of data required under RIPA separates it from prior police data collection laws and is serving as a model for lawmakers and police administrators in other states when enacting new or strengthening existing police data collection laws and policies.
In addition, stakeholders have used RIPA data in a variety of ways in their efforts to improve the state of policing in California and beyond. The findings in the 2023 RIPA Report help to advance this important work. Advocates and nonprofit organizations have utilized RIPA data to push for reforms that are intended to address racial and ethnic disparities in policing and reimagine public safety more broadly. For instance, the 2023 RIPA Report discusses three examples of organizations based in California—the Public Policy Institute of California, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and the Center for Policing Equity—that have used RIPA data in their work to identify racial disparities in policing. Moreover, lawmakers and police agencies from different jurisdictions have cited RIPA data to support new laws and policies that eliminate certain types of pedestrian and traffic stops, including jaywalking stops and traffic stops for nonmoving and equipment violations.
At the same time, a search on Westlaw reveals that only a handful of attorneys and courts have cited RIPA data in their briefs or opinions. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges alike can make much better use of RIPA data in cases challenging the legality of officer conduct or departmental policies. Consider the following examples. Attorneys and judges might rely on RIPA data to underscore that racial, ethnic, and other key demographic inequalities in policing persist today. Attorneys and judges might also rely on RIPA data to offer better context for racialized policing and bolster potential claims and conclusions that specific instances of police misconduct were motivated by race. Moreover, RIPA data could illuminate that specific instances of racially motivated police misconduct or specific departmental policies that enable racial and other identity profiling are not isolated phenomena, but rather are systemic nationwide.
A recent 2022 case from the Central District of California illustrates how these possible uses of RIPA data can materialize in legal practice. In that case, the federal district court judge cited RIPA data and other statistical evidence to deny summary judgment on an equal protection claim in a section 1983 lawsuit involving a traffic stop for tinted windows that escalated into violence against a Black male driver. After connecting the underlying facts with RIPA data and other statistical evidence, the judge concluded that a triable issue of fact existed on whether two officers conducted a traffic stop, at least in part, because of the driver’s race in violation of equal protection.
What the Report Includes
At over 200 pages, the 2023 RIPA Report contains a wealth of data and other information on policing that is relevant to stakeholders in California and beyond. Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Bd., Annual Report Executive Summary 2023 (Jan. 1, 2023),. Analysis of the latest data collected under RIPA is a centerpiece of the report. The report, however, also includes detailed policy-focused discussions on pretextual stops and youth interactions with law enforcement. Continuing themes in prior RIPA reports, this year’s report also examines policies related to police accountability, calls for service models, civilian complaint policies and data, and law enforcement training related to racial and identity profiling. Finally, the report offers a thorough list of recommendations and best practices for various stakeholders (for instance, law enforcement agencies, lawmakers, and local prosecutors) to eliminate racial and identity profiling in law enforcement and improve relationships between law enforcement and communities.
Policing Through a Mental Health Lens
A critical feature of the 2023 RIPA Report is that it uses a public health lens to contextualize the many racial and ethnic disparities that emerge from the most recent RIPA data. As discussed in the report, recent studies show that police interactions are commonly associated with negative mental health effects for individual targets of policing and the communities to which they belong. Important examples of negative mental health effects include distress, depression, anxiety, and trauma. Considering policing through a mental health lens is especially important to understand the experiences of people of color and other marginalized communities that are all too often the primary targets of pretextual law enforcement policies and practices. Based on findings from the latest RIPA data and other existing research, the report underscores that the harms of policing, and pretextual policing in particular, must be viewed as a public health issue and not merely a criminal justice issue.
Key Findings from the Latest RIPA Data
The 2023 RIPA Report analyzes data from over 3.1 million pedestrian and vehicle stops in California during 2021. The evaluated data were collected and reported by 58 law enforcement agencies in California, including the 23 largest agencies in the state. RIPA staggers when law enforcement agencies are required to start collecting and report stop data by agency size, with smaller agencies having later reporting deadlines in 2022 and 2023. The findings in the report show key disparities at all stages of the stops, including the identity demographics of individuals stopped by officers, calls for service, the primary reasons for the stops, the actions taken by officers during the stops, and the results of the stops. These disparities are consistent with the findings presented in RIPA reports from previous years and other empirical studies on disparities in policing in the United States.
Identity Demographics of Stopped Individuals
The report presents data on the demographic characteristics of individuals stopped by officers along six dimensions: race/ethnicity, gender, age, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) identity, English fluency, and disability. RIPA data are based on collected information of how officers perceive the demographic characteristics of individuals who are stopped. Officers are not allowed to ask how individuals actually identify.
In terms of race and ethnicity, officers perceived the highest proportion of individuals they stopped to be Hispanic/Latine(x) (42.4 percent), white (30.7 percent), and Black (15.0 percent). To test for racial and ethnic disparities, the RIPA data were compared to residential population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. A key finding was that compared to the proportion of the residential population, Black individuals were stopped 144.2 percent more frequently than expected. Conversely, white individuals were stopped 11.4 percent less frequently than expected based on their proportion of the residential population. The data further revealed that officers perceived 1.2 percent of all individuals stopped to have one or more disabilities, with 75.1 percent of those cases reported to involve mental health disabilities.
Calls for Service
RIPA requires officers to indicate whether they conducted a stop in response to a call for service. Labeled as “bias by proxy,” calls for service are an important context in which members of the public can make biased or illegitimate claims about other members of the public, leading to police contact. Officers reported that 6.1 percent of stops were made in response to calls for service. Relative to other groups in the examined demographic categories, individuals perceived to be Black, transgender men/boys or transgender women/girls, between the ages of 10 and14, LGBT, of limited English fluency, and as having a disability had a high proportion of stops reported as being in response to a call for service. A notable finding in the report is that stops in which officers perceived an individual as having a disability had a “remarkably higher” proportion of stops conducted in response to a call for service (59.2 percent) compared to individuals not perceived to have a disability (5.4 percent).
Primary Reason for the Stops
RIPA also requires officers to report the primary reason for initiating stops. In cases where officers initiate stops for multiple reasons, officers are only required to report the primary reason for the stop. Overall, officers reported a traffic violation as the most common primary reason for initiating stops (86.8 percent), followed by reasonable suspicion that an individual was engaged in criminal activity (10.5 percent). Certain marginalized groups had a higher proportion of their stops reported as primarily involving reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and a lower proportion of their stops as primarily involving traffic violations. Those groups included individuals perceived to be Black, transgender women/girls or transgender men/boys, age 10 to 14, LGBT, of limited English fluency, and as having a disability. As noted in the report, these disparities lend support to the idea that certain marginalized communities that are vulnerable to over-policing are also more likely to be unfairly perceived as criminally suspicious by officers.
Actions Taken by Officers During the Stops
Actions Generally. Under RIPA, officers must report all actions taken towards an individual during a stop. Officers can choose up to 23 different actions taken during the stop, including asking a person to exit a vehicle, conducting a search of an individual’s person or property, and handcuffing a person. Overall, officers reported taking one or more actions in only 19.9 percent of stops. The most common actions involved a search of a person or property (11.9 percent), curbside or patrol car detention (11.3 percent), handcuffing (9.8 percent), and verbal orders to exit a vehicle (4.3 percent). Relative to other groups in the examined demographic categories, individuals perceived to be Black, transgender men/boys or transgender women/girls, between the ages of 10 and14, LGBT, of limited English fluency, and as having a disability also had a higher proportion of stops that involved officers taking one or more actions against them. Those actions included a search of a person or property, curbside or patrol car detention, handcuffing, and verbal orders to exit a vehicle.
Searches. To test for racial and ethnic disparities, the report compared search and discovery rates across different racial and ethnic groups. Overall, officers reported conducting a search of a person or property in 11.9 percent of stops and discovered contraband in 24.6 percent of those searches. There were meaningful differences, however, in search and discovery rates across racial and ethnic groups. For instance, stopped individuals perceived to be Black had the highest search rates (20.1 percent) and were searched at a rate that was 2.2 times greater than that of white individuals. More sophisticated statistical tests revealed that in stops involving high-discretion searches, individuals perceived to be Black or Hispanic/Latine(x) had both a statistically significant higher probability of being searched and a statistically significant lower probability of being found in possession of contraband or evidence, compared to individuals perceived to be white.
These disparities are consistent with other empirical studies that have found disparities based on race and ethnicity in search and discovery rates. As discussed in the report, these disparities suggest that people of color are often searched at higher rates, yet are less likely to have contraband in their possession when searched, compared to white individuals.
Use of Force. The report also examines officer use of force during the stops. Nine types of officer force were divided into three main categories:
- Lethal force, which involves the discharge or use of a firearm.
- Less-lethal force, which involves the use of electronic control devices, the discharge or use of impact projectiles, whether a canine bit or held a person, the use of batons or other impact weapons, the pointing of a firearm, or the use of chemical spray.
- Limited-lethal force, which involves removing a person from a vehicle by physical contact or any other physical or vehicle contact.
Officers reported using lethal force against 0.005 percent of stopped individuals, less-lethal force against 0.6 percent of stopped individuals, and limited-lethal force against 0.8 percent of stopped individuals.
Racial and ethnic disparities, however, emerged from the use of force data. Notably, in each of the three categories above, stopped individuals perceived to be Black had the highest rates of reported force used against them during the stops. More sophisticated statistical tests revealed that individuals perceived to be Black or Hispanic/Latine(x) were more likely to have force used against them compared to individuals perceived to be white at statistically significant levels. Specifically, the odds of officers using force against individuals perceived to be Black were 1.24 times higher—and for individuals perceived to be Hispanic/Latine(x) were 1.09 times higher—than the odds of officers using force against individuals perceived to be white.
Results of the Stops
RIPA requires officers to report the results of a stop. Under RIPA, officers can choose up to 13 different results, which include issuing a citation, giving a warning, and making an arrest. Overall, the most common results of the stops involved a citation (52.0 percent), a warning (26.3 percent), and an arrest (12.8 percent). Officers indicated that they took no reportable action in 7.6 percent of all stops. Relative to other groups in the examined demographic categories, a higher proportion of stops involving individuals perceived to be Black, transgender men/boys or transgender women/girls, below the age of 18, LGBT, of limited English fluency, and as having a disability resulted in no reportable action by an officer. As the report stresses, cases in which officers report taking no action may suggest that the officers had an unfounded suspicion of wrongdoing or that explicit and implicit biases influenced the stop.
After presenting the latest RIPA data, the report provides two detailed policy-focused discussions on pretextual stops and youth interactions with law enforcement.
As discussed in the report, pretextual stops occur during the most common interactions that civilians have with law enforcement, including traffic stops. The institutionalization of pretextual stops in law enforcement dates back to the growth of Broken Windows Policing, fueled in part by our country’s failed “War on Drugs.” For decades, law enforcement agencies have used pedestrian and traffic stops as pretexts to target people of color and search for drugs and weapons. These pretextual stops are often conducted without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing or probable cause to conduct a search. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively rubber-stamped the use of pretextual stops by upholding their Fourth Amendment constitutionality in a case called Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996).
The report examines the various ways in which pretextual stops damage community health and perceptions of police legitimacy. These negative effects are especially acute for people of color and other over-policed communities that are more vulnerable to pretextual stops. The report further discusses how efforts to eliminate or reduce pretextual stops and searches have gained momentum in recent years within the broader national dialogue on race and policing. Besides formal laws and policies prohibiting or restricting pretextual stops, many jurisdictions have also adopted laws like RIPA that require law enforcement agencies to collect and report stop data.
To connect this broader policy discussion on pretextual stops to the latest RIPA data, the report presents findings on consent searches. Officers will commonly ask for consent to search a person, a person’s property, or a person’s vehicle during a pretextual stop. Consent searches are especially problematic because officers can request consent to search even when they do not suspect any wrongdoing or have probable cause to conduct a search. Officers also have vast discretion in deciding whether and when to conduct a consent search.
Some key findings involving consent searches presented in the report include:
- Officers requested consent to search during stops primarily initiated for a traffic violation more often when they perceived the stopped individuals to be Black, Hispanic/Latine(x), or multiracial.
- Overall, most individuals (98.5 percent) granted consent to search when officers requested it during stops primarily initiated for traffic violations. Similarly high rates of granting consent applied to racial and ethnic groups that were more likely to be asked for consent to search, including individuals perceived to be Black, Hispanic/Latine(x), and multiracial.
- Officers were more likely to perform, yet least likely to find contraband, during “consent only searches” (searches in which officers had no other basis to conduct a search other than a person’s consent) of individuals perceived as Black. This disparity is consistent with evaluated data collected under RIPA in prior years.
The report calls on stakeholders (i.e., lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, and local prosecutors) to examine potential reforms that curb pretextual stops and limit officer discretion during routine encounters. Some of these reforms are gaining traction in different jurisdictions and include:
- limiting the enforcement of traffic violations and other minor offenses that pose a low risk to public safety;
- limiting traffic enforcement conducted by armed law enforcement officers and developing nonpolice alternatives to conduct traffic enforcement (for instance, civilian enforcement units);
- prohibiting certain searches, including consent searches, during traffic stops and requiring probable cause for any search; and
- prohibiting pretextual stops and searches and requiring all stops and searches to be based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
- Future RIPA reports will evaluate the effectiveness of these potential reforms.
Youth Interactions with Law Enforcement
A highlight of this year’s report is that it provides a policy-focused discussion of findings from the RIPA data on disparities surrounding youth interactions with law enforcement. As noted in the report, these disparities are consistent with other empirical studies that have found racial and ethnic disparities in the frequency and nature of youths’ interactions with law enforcement, both inside and outside of schools. This policy-focused discussion is especially relevant to system professionals who work regularly with children and youth, such as in juvenile justice and educational settings.
Some key findings on youth contacts with law enforcement presented in the report include:
- Among all age groups, individuals perceived to be 10 to 14 years old had the highest percentage of stops that resulted in a custodial arrest without a warrant.
- The percentage of stops that had no reportable action taken by an officer was higher among younger age groups (1 to 9, 10 to 14, and 14 to 17) both overall and within racial and ethnic groups. The largest racial and ethnic disparities involved stops on individuals perceived to be 15 to 17 years old.
- Among all age groups, individuals perceived to be adolescents (age groups 10 to 14 and 15 to 17 years old) had the highest percentages of stops in which officers detained, handcuffed, or searched individuals. The largest racial and ethnic disparities involved stops on individuals who were perceived to be both adolescent and Black.
- Among all age groups divided by race and ethnicity, the highest percentage of discretionary searches involved stops of individuals who were perceived to be both Black and between the ages of 15 and 17 years. However, individuals perceived to be both white and between the ages of 15 and 17 had the highest discovery rate of contraband or evidence among all intersections of age and racial and ethnic groups.
- Among all age groups divided by race and ethnicity, the highest percentage of “consent only searches” occurred during stops of individuals who were perceived to be both Black and between the ages of 15 and 17.
- Officers completed field interview cards at higher rates during stops of individuals perceived to be between 10 and 14 years old than other age groups. The largest racial and ethnic disparities involved stops on individuals who were perceived to be both adolescent (10 to 14 and 15 to 17 years old) and Black or Latine(x). Field interview cards are used to enter information about stopped individuals into law enforcement databases, including gang databases.
Based on these findings and other research, the report stresses a need for considering the vulnerability of youth in law enforcement policies and practices. Some ideas for reform that are listed in the report include:
- requiring counsel to be present to search or question youth,
- requiring probable cause for any frisk or pat-down search of youth,
- eliminating the entry of information about youth into law enforcement databases based on interviews where counsel is not present,
- mandating use of force policies to address interactions with youth, and
- prohibiting the use of certain types of force against youth.
Future RIPA reports will also evaluate the effectiveness of these ideas for reform.
Continuation of Themes from Prior RIPA Reports
Continuing prior work of the RIPA Advisory Board, the second half of the report provides updated discussions on multiple topics covered in previous reports.
Policies and Accountability
As recognized in the report, certain mechanisms of police accountability might work better for some communities than others. Consistent with this idea, the report surveys various potential internal and external mechanisms of police accountability. The discussed internal accountability mechanisms include agency culture, supervisors, internal affairs departments, and data and policy analysis. The discussed external accountability mechanisms include attorney general oversight, civil litigation, criminal oversight, civilian review boards, inspector generals, police commissions, and audits. The report provides several examples from major cities and counties in California that have adopted these mechanisms to various degrees. Future RIPA reports will review the efficiency of these different mechanisms of police accountability and their limitations.
Calls for Service and Bias by Proxy
The report also includes an updated discussion on approaches and issues involving calls for service. Including calls for service in the dialogue on police reform is vital because dispatchers are often a first point of contact with members of the public who seek police assistance. Dispatchers also make important decisions as to whether law enforcement or other public safety professionals should be called to respond in a given situation. At the same time, calls for service are an important context in which members of the public can make biased or illegitimate claims against others that lead to police contact. The report identifies and discusses several steps that jurisdictions can take to better aid and support dispatchers. Those steps include providing training on mental health and bias by proxy issues, technological improvements, and creating hotline alternatives to 911 in order to deal with mental health crises and connect people in need with local services.
Another highlight of the report is that it provides programmatic updates on crisis intervention programs that have been implemented in several major cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Denver, and Los Angeles. These programs offer alternatives to armed law enforcement officers in responding to crisis situations. For instance, some programs pair mental health professionals with nonpolice public safety professionals (for example, emergency medical technicians and paramedics) to respond to calls for help and crisis situations. The report concludes that crisis intervention programs have had positive effects within communities. It also provides a useful list of federal and state-level funding opportunities for jurisdictions looking to create such programs.
California law requires law enforcement agencies to establish a procedure to investigate civilian complaints. At the same time, California law grants agencies vast discretion in creating and implementing civilian complaint systems. As noted in the report, this discretion has resulted in different degrees of transparency surrounding the civilian complaint process and inconsistencies in civilian complaint data. To improve consistency and transparency in the civilian complaint process, prior RIPA reports have analyzed complaint forms and procedures surrounding intake and investigation in California law enforcement agencies. Continuing this work, this year’s report provides a detailed overview of best practices to incorporate principles of procedural justice into each step of the civilian complaint process. Those steps include intake, acknowledgment, investigation, updates, disposition, and auditing.
The report also presents findings from civilian complaint data collected in 2021 under RIPA. RIPA requires law enforcement agencies to report the number of civilian complaints received, the number of complaints alleging racial profiling, and the disposition of all complaints. Over 500 agencies subject to RIPA’s requirements reported civilian complaint data for 2021.
Some key findings from the civilian complaint data include:
- 10,088 civilian complaints from 2021 were reported across 389 RIPA agencies. 94.8 percent of those complaints alleged noncriminal conduct, 3.8 percent alleged misdemeanor conduct, and 1.4 percent alleged felony conduct. 133 RIPA agencies reported zero complaints in 2021.
- RIPA agencies reported reaching a disposition for 10,490 civilian complaints in 2021. Only 9.5 percent of those complaints were sustained. The rest were reported as exonerated (33.3 percent), not sustained (10.3 percent), or unfounded (47 percent).
- 1,426 complaints (14.1 percent of total complaints) in 2021 were reported as including an element of racial or identity profiling.
- RIPA agencies reported reaching a disposition for 713 racial and identity profiling complaints in 2021. Only 1.8 percent of those complaints were sustained. The rest were reported as exonerated (18.2 percent), not sustained (11.6 percent), or unfounded (68.3 percent).
POST Training and Recruitment
The report also continues the RIPA Advisory Board’s work of evaluating police training and recruitment. RIPA mandates review of law enforcement training related to racial and identity profiling in California. The Commission on Peace Officer Standard and Training (POST) is the main organization responsible for law enforcement training in the state. Over the past several years, the RIPA Advisory Board has reviewed instructional materials and onsite teaching in several POST courses. This year’s report reviews and provides commentary on two POST courses: one course on cultural diversity and discrimination in basic academy training and another course on racial profiling training for officer trainers. In future reports, the Board intends to use RIPA data to evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of law enforcement training related to identity and racial profiling.
Recommendations and Best Practices
The latest RIPA report also provides a thorough 12-page list of recommendations and best practices from the RIPA Advisory Board for law enforcement agencies, lawmakers, police training bodies, advocates, and the public. The recommendations and best practices start by stressing the connection between mental health and policing, and urge stakeholders to understand and address the negative mental health effects of racial and identity profiling for people of color. The recommendations and best practices provide a blueprint for stakeholders to build and develop laws and policies to eliminate pretextual stops, improve youth contacts with law enforcement, strengthen accountability models in law enforcement, improve systems surrounding calls for service and eliminating bias by proxy, design robust civilian complaint policies and practices, and improve police training and recruitment. This list is a valuable resource for different stakeholders nationwide who are involved with designing or advocating new laws and policies that address disparities and inequities in policing.
In sum, the latest RIPA report contains a wealth of valuable information on policing that is relevant to both system professionals and the public. The report demonstrates how laws and policies mandating data collection and reporting on police encounters and civilian complaints are helpful in improving police accountability and transparency. The contents of the report further illustrate how data and information sharing can facilitate collective problem-solving and innovation in police reform.
Various projects and initiatives, including the Stanford Open Policing Project and The Policing Project at NYU, are facilitating similar data and information-driven efforts. Recently, the American Bar Association’s own Legal Education Police Practice Consortium was established to leverage the ABA’s expertise and participation of ABA-accredited law schools to examine and address national issues regarding policing and public safety. These projects and initiatives will continue to have an important role in exposing disparities in policing and police misconduct, and formulating solutions to address those problems.