First published in the Dec. 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Burbank police will begin collecting demographic data on the people officers stop on Jan. 1, in compliance with a state law aiming to increase departments’ transparency.
The California Legislature passed the Racial and Identity Profiling Act in 2015, requiring peace officers to collect the demographic information of pedestrians and drivers they detain or search. The bill’s effects have rolled out since 2018, starting with the state’s largest law enforcement agencies. The final “wave” of applicability begins next year; agencies with between one and 333 officers — including Burbank — must begin collecting data by Jan. 1 and report that data by April 2023.
RIPA requires peace officers to report the perceived characteristics of those they stop, rather than reporting demographics listed on personal identification such as a driver’s license. These data elements include the perceived race or ethnicity of those stopped, as well as their genders and ages. Officers must also describe the reason for the stop, their own actions during the stop and the results of the incident.
In its 2021 annual report, the RIPA Board said that stop data collected in 2019 showed that officers from California’s 15 largest agencies stopped white individuals more than twice as often as they did Black individuals, but were significantly more likely to search, detain, handcuff or remove vehicles from a Black person than a white person. The data presented in the report also showed officers were more likely to use force against Black and Hispanic individuals than white persons.
The report’s authors maintained that officers’ biases may contribute to the disparities in the data, but added that poverty, employment and housing discrimination, and area demographics could also play a role.
Data collected and published through RIPA indicated that the state’s largest law enforcement agencies appeared to disproportionately stop Black pedestrians and drivers (16% of stops) compared to their estimated share of the California population (6% in 2018).
The California Department of Justice publishes agency-level RIPA data on its website.
BPD Lt. Scott Meadows told the Leader in a statement that the department has trained officers on RIPA requirements, and that it is testing the data collection system. The policy’s full implementation, he confirmed, will begin at the start of the new year.
The BPD already publishes a limited breakdown of officers’ arrests and “field interviews” — though not traffic citations or warnings — by racial categories. In 2020, according to a department report, officers disproportionately had field contacts with both white and Black people compared to their share of the county’s population — 42% and 12% of contacts, respectively, compared to 26% and 9% of the population. Contacts with Hispanic and Black people were overrepresented in relation to Burbank’s demographics.
INCIDENT DATA MORE DETAILED
The BPD will also soon begin reporting crime statistics data in accordance with the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System. The new system, according to BPD records bureau supervisor Jennifer Moran, can feature a wider range of incident types than the current system and will provide more details regarding crime incidents. Those details include information on relationships between victims and suspects, and whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the incident.
Additionally, NIBRS will allow law enforcement agencies to report up to 10 of the offenses that occurred in a single incident; before, only the most serious offense was typically reported.
In an email to the Leader, Moran warned that this shift will mean that Burbank’s crime statistics — as well as those of other cities pivoting to NIBRS — could appear to skyrocket, with more offenses recorded even if the number of incidents remains similar.
“For example, if last years’ … data was converted to NIBRS data, there would be more offenses reported under NIBRS although the underlying incidents were the same,” she said. “The NIBRS provides a more comprehensive view of crime in the United States and offers greater flexibility in data compilation and analysis.”
The FBI transitioned to NIBRS at the beginning of 2021, though Moran said California law enforcement agencies are in different stages of the implementation process since the state took longer than expected to provide technical specifications for their computer systems. The BPD, she added, began collecting NIBRS data at the beginning of December and will start submitting reports to the state in January.