According to a report released Tuesday, the California Auditor discovered that some law enforcement officers at four local departments engaged in biased behavior, either in their on-duty interactions with individuals or online through their social media posts.
The auditor made specific recommendations to each department on how they can improve their ability to provide fair and impartial policing services to Californians.
“We also make several recommendations to the Legislature to better align state law expectations with best practices for policing bias, such as adopting a uniform definition of biased conduct, requiring more frequent and thorough training, and increasing independent oversight,” Acting California State Auditor Michael Tilden said.
Internal investigations and publicly available social media accounts were used to determine whether any officers were members of hate groups.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate group as “an organization whose primary purpose is to incite animosity, hostility, and malice toward individuals who are or are not members of the organization’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, gender, or gender identity.”
Although the investigation found no evidence that any officers were members of hate groups, six officers posted content indicating their support for groups with questionable principles or activities.
For instance, one officer posted a statement defending the Proud Boys, a group that has expressed hostility toward women and Muslims, claiming that those opposed to the Proud Boys are “really just anti-masculinity.”
Stockton Police did not state explicitly whether it would implement the Auditor’s recommendations, but did state that it would analyze the audit and determine how its policies and procedures could be more aligned with best practices.
Stockton Police received a complaint about an officer’s social media posts that promoted racial stereotypes and were demeaning to women and people with disabilities.
Following an investigation into the complaint, the Stockton Police Department determined that the officer engaged in “unbecoming conduct” and violated the department’s social media policy.
As a form of discipline, the officer received a letter of reprimand.
The audit discovered bias in four law enforcement agencies in part because the agencies did not fully implement comprehensive strategies for addressing bias within their organizations.
A critical first step toward providing bias-free law enforcement is the adoption of a formal policy against biased behavior that serves as the department’s foundation for addressing bias.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), a department’s bias policy should state unequivocally that biased behavior is prohibited, define precisely what constitutes biased behavior, and outline key compliance mechanisms.
Only the Stockton Police Department did not have such a policy.
As a result, the department lacks a critical management tool for communicating officer conduct expectations and clear commitments to community fairness.
To establish effective early intervention systems, departments must first collect accurate data on officers’ behavior.
A particular type of data is critical for identifying potentially biased behavior: demographic information about individuals whom officers stop, detain, search, arrest, or take other actions against during traffic stops.
Traffic Stops data is useful because it captures common interactions between officers and the public.
Stockton Police is particularly constrained in its use of stop data.
Stockton police officers pulled over a vehicle during a traffic stop, and while one officer completed the stop, another approached a parked vehicle.
The officer then inquired of the man in the parked car whether he was on probation or parole, a question that was also asked of the other non-Black driver during the traffic stop.
When the man refused to respond, he was arrested and his vehicle searched.
After nothing was discovered, he was accused of “racism” and told to vacate the parking lot.
The man was arrested and his vehicle towed after he refused.
Stockton police officers lacked the authority to search the car, arrest the driver, or tow his vehicle.
The only indicator used to determine which officers may require intervention is the number of complaints filed against them.
While complaints are an important component of early intervention systems, relying exclusively on them is a reactive and limited approach.
By definition, complaints occur after possible misconduct has occurred, whereas the goal of an early intervention system is to intervene and support officers prior to their acting or reacting inappropriately to their current situations.
The lieutenant in Stockton Police’s professional standards section, which oversees the department’s early intervention system, stated that “the system’s reliance on complaints as its sole indicator is archaic and that incorporating additional data, such as data on use of force, would be beneficial.”
He attributed the current system’s shortcomings to disjointed data systems and the lack of policies or procedures for incorporating diverse data into the early intervention system.
The Stockton Police Department, on the other hand, was the only one with a Comprehensive Community Engagement Plan.
The strategic plan for Stockton Police establishes a goal of increasing trust between the department and the community.
One strategy it uses to accomplish this goal is to conduct trust-building workshops in which members of the community and department come together to promote healing through dialogue.
Stockton Police, according to the officer in charge of the team, provides information about the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office Victim-Witness Program, which advertises a variety of services for crime victims, including crisis intervention.