Findings from the California’s Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory (RIPA) Board’s Annual Report released earlier this month have sparked controversy after the results revealed that nonwhites are dispropotionately represented in police stops. The report also claimed that, of those stopped, nonwhites were searched more frequently, arrested more frequently, and more frequently engaged in physical confrontations with police officers. This led many people to conclude that the police are in fact, racist. However, it’s important to note that the practice of policing is far more complicated than what can be captured in datasets. While these data appear straightforward, studying racial bias is complicated.
There are myriad contextual factors at play that affect officer decisionmaking and police-citizen interactions, such that it is nearly impossible to attribute racial disparities solely to any one cause. Unfortunately, contextual factors are often not easily measured, or they might be ignored on the basis that these details are “less important.” But ignoring these key details leaves us with an incomplete understanding of the dynamics influencing these police encounters. So when it comes to the RIPA Board’s report, the findings seem straightforward, but a closer look shows some holes in the methodology that likely undermine the validity of the findings. To this end, the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) conducted a critical analysis of the report that highlighted numerous problems with the RIPA data and the methodology used in the report. In this post, I will summarize the key issues raised by the PORAC.
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