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A Critique and Evaluation of the CPE Police Report

Steve Martinot (With special thanks to Jim McFadden for some important ideas);
Thursday July 05, 2018 - 12:01:00 PM

This critique is divided into three sections. Part 1 deals with some problems with the report in general. It mostly concerns information omitted, along with an ignoring of the historical context. Part 2 deals with disparities in traffic stops, not only between black drivers and white, but between black drivers and others in the category of “people of color,” which raises the issue of a police “recognition factor,” and certain implicit “search functions” overlaid on racial profiling. Part 3 relates these factors to the question of harassment as a political project. And that has ramifications for the concept of "race" itself. The suggestion is made that race is not inherent, but is more properly understood as a verb, something one group of people does to others. If you would like to read ahead, Part 2 can be found here [], and Part 3 can be found here [].

Part 1 – Some problems in the report

In 2015, the City of Berkeley commissioned the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) to do a study and report on racial profiling in the Berkeley Police Department (BPD). It was done in the wake of years of complaints about police comportment, which came to a head after special hearings on how the BPD had handled certain large demonstrations (about police brutality) that occurred in December, 2014. Those demonstrations were in solidarity with others across the country protesting the failure of Missouri and New York to charge the officers who had killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The Berkeley police assaulted these political demonstrations using tear gas, pepper spray, beanbag rounds, beatings with nightsticks, and the "kettling" of people for the purpose of mass arrest. A number of lawsuits resulted from BPD use of force. And hundreds of people came to City Council to testify about police behavior, putting the issues of police violence, militarization, and racial profiling on the table. 

While these demonstrations were a recognition that police comportment had become a national issue, the subsequent hearings also forced the city to recognize that Berkeley had its own share of problems. Along with incidents such as the beating of black students in the middle of the night for allegedly jaywalking, the killing of Kayla Moore, and cases of racial harassment, there was testimony about how the police handled homeless people, or those in emotional crises, including descriptions of excessive violence and gratuitous hyper-restraints. 

The CPE was contracted to do a study of police practices as an allegedly neutral third party, and was given partial access to police records. In Nov. 2017, it issued its report, which focused on racial disparities in police conduct. CPE researchers complimented the police for their openness and willingness to cooperate with the study. Though the report was to be fully independent of the police, as a neutral investigation, the police received the report first, and withheld release until May, 2018, in a revised form. For the police to have seized the report for "review" when it was first issued essentially nullified the supposed "neutrality" of the report. 

[The final version of the report can be found here: 

In evaluating this report, a number of problems present themselves. For one, the report only discusses traffic stops and pedestrian stops as representative of police comportment toward individual people. It does not go into modes of crime investigation or crowd-control situations. With respect to “use of force” procedures, it is content to simply tabulate various modes of. Use of force, with no discussion of actual incidents – such as, for instance, ten police cars arriving for the questioning or arrest of a single individual on the street. 

Second, though the BPD complimented itself on its openness and willingness to aid the CPE in its study of police practices, certain important data categories were withheld. For instance, the report addresses the fact that traffic stops sometimes led to arrests, yet the BPD did not release any data on the causes nor nature of such arrests, or under what circumstances they occurred. For a traffic stop to result in an arrest should be an unusual occurrence. Traffic violations are simply infractions, for which tickets are issued. Why would any of them (even a small number) escalate to treating a driver as a criminal? At its public presentation of the report, the CPE menionted that the officer’s background check of the driver might discover outstanding warrants, or parole violations. But nothing was said about the more pressing problem at the national level, as a context for the local, of police violence toward drivers of color during traffic stops. 

There have been hundreds of videos of black or brown drivers being dragged out of their cars and thrown to the ground, to be handcuffed and arrested. Such events have even made network evening news. One famous case was that of Sandra Bland who, in July, 2015, was dragged from her car and thrown to the ground. She died later that day in custody. Breaion King, a black school teacher in Texas, was also pulled from her car arrested in June, 2015, after an exchange of words with the cop, and charged with “resisting arrest.” Rose Campbell, a black 65 year old grandmother, was pulled from her car in Georgia in early May, 2018, after only words were exchanged with the officer. Rebecca Musarra was a black driver stopped by a cop for speeding, who refused to answer any of his questions. He pulled open her door and dragged her from her car and handcuffing her for remaining silent. As he arrested her, he read her her Miranda rights, among which are “you have the right to remain silent.” (SFC, 8/25/17, pA5) 

Were these the kinds of incidents in which a traffic stop in Berkeley resulted in arrest? Because they form an unignorable context for the CPE’s investigative efforts, the specific violations for which drivers were arrested would be critical information. Why would the BPD withhold that information? Indeed, it should logically be recorded in the same reports as was the race of the driver, which data the CPE received. 

Third, there is an important anomaly in the data on traffic and pedestrian stops at the beginning of 2015. The number and frequency of such stops dropped precipitously, and then resumes at its former rate, increasing linearly afterwards to a high point in 2016. This dip in police activity is passed over by the report’s commentaries. Yet it has historical significance. This was the period following nationwide uprisings over police shootings and police racial profiling. What might have motivated the police to reduce normal practices during that period? Could it have been a decision to cut back on behavior and procedures that were targets of the national protests, perhaps out of shame for having engaged in them in the first place? Or was it in response to national (federal) advisories to pay greater attention to protest groups and activities, thus shifting attention from ordinary policing activity like traffic stops? The extent to which policing policy is linked to national considerations would be an important dimension of the issue. 

Fourth, though the police divide the population of Berkeley into five racial groupings, namely, the category of white people and four categories of people of color, statistics on those of the latter four are discussed alone or in relation to whites, but not in relation to each other. Yet there is significant variation in the way the police deal with each of the categories of people of color (POC). We shall address this in part 2 of this evaluation. It remains a critical issue with respect to the overall processes of racialization that produce disparities of conduct. The statistics themselves indicate that this omission renders some important questions unanswerable, as we will see. 

To return to the national context, the report covers the years from 2012 to 2016, which were tumultuous all across the country with respect to conflicts between the people and the police. The uprisings of 2014 were only the most massive among movements protesting police racial profiling. The Ferguson, MO, events took place in August and September of 2014, and Baltimore rose up in November of the same year in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The “Black Lives Matter” movement emerged during this time, and even gained international standing as a movement. 

These events had tremendous impact on people of color, and in particular on the social justice movements. It was a period with a steadily rising death rate at the hands of the police (in 2015 alone, over 1100 unarmed people of color were killed by police – an average of more than three a day). While no drivers were reported shot in Berkeley during this period, that kind of occurrence cannot be left out. It was part of the national context. Certain cases became well-known. Jessica Williams was shot to death in her car in SF (July 2016). Demouria Hogg was shot to death in his car in June 2015, having passed out on the off-ramp to Lakeshore Drive in Oakland, perhaps needing medical care but certainly not a death warrant. The list going back to the killings of Sean Bell or Tyisha Miller, shot to death in their cars, is long. 

Indeed, a simple Google search of those shot during traffic stops produces endless entries. In May 2018, a man was shot by police at a traffic stop in Lawrence KS. A man was shot by police when fleeing a traffic stop in Memphis on May 8, 2018. Another was shot and killed in Winston-Salem during a traffic stop on April 1, 2018. A woman was shot by Aurora, CO, police during a traffic stop on May 6, 2018. A man was shot during a traffic stop in Greensboro, NC, on May 27, 2018. A man was shot by police during a traffic stop in Kensington, PA, on May 29, 2018. Etc. Etc. These are all from the Spring of 2018. There are videos of many of these events. 

Rodney King was beaten because he fled a traffic stop. Traffic stops are not safe for people in the US, and especially not for people of color. 

What occurs nationally cannot be discounted as an influence on what transpires in Berkeley. It is for that reason that the arrest records at traffic stops become critical data in understanding racial disparities in how the Berkeley police operate. To leave this out is to force one into the Manichean assumption that either the police always act ethically in their relations to the public, or that there is significant criminality that they are covering up. How is police racial bias to be evaluated if the ethics of police actions has to assumed, one way or the other, rather than researched? And how can an evaluation of police practices be considered objective if what is happening on the national level, which would have an impact on the thinking of drivers in Berkeley, and whether they feel safe or not, is omitted. 

In other words, the main failing of the report, though not part of its original contractual project, is the absence of any attempt to historicize the issues addressed in the report, or to put them in their broader social context. It is in terms of police killings and harassment of black people (driving while black, for instance) that uprisings have occurred. And the broader social context would also include how racialization occurs in the US, and how police racial profiling would form a facet of it. Different groups get racialized in different ways. We have witnessed, over the last few decades, how Latino immigrants, Arabs, Islamic fundamentalists, and even Serbians have been racialized – in most cases, to fulfill a specific political purpose, or to disguise an economic problem. 

But let us look at the actual racial categories the BPD uses, and toward which it provides data on three police procedure – traffic stops, pedestrian stops, and use of force – for which its most extensive and detailed treatment is of traffic stops. The police divide people into five racial groups, and the report provides their population percentages as calculated from census data. They are whites (56%), blacks (8%), Latinos (11%), Asians (19%), and a category of "Other" that comes to 7%. “People of color” (POC) comprise 44% of the town. People of color who are not black (African American) comprise 36%. The data covers how many traffic stops are made of each racial category, what this represents per capita (stops per 1000 of the specific group’s population), and how many result in citation, in arrest, in searches, etc. The data are then pressented in graphs, with commentaries. Some graphs relate statistics by racial category per year (for 2012 to 2016). Others are graphs of totals per racial category for the five year period. 

The report finds that there are certain clear racial disparities in the way the police relate to each of these different groups. We shall discuss this more in depth in Part 2 of this evaluation. It provides a number of recommendations concerning how the police could correct the inequities that the data reveal, and suggests that this would enable the police to live up to the "values" of the city in a better way. It makes suggestions concerning training and procedure, but says little of a concrete nature concerning policy. 

Racial disparities in police practices have been well documented in City Council and Police Review Commission meetings. Yet studies like this are still relevant, and commissioned, because the issue of institutional racism doesn’t seem to go away. It is raised again and again by social justice movements. Racial disparities in police practices have to be considered as institutional if they are apprehensible only in the aggregate. The report’s task, then, could not have been to "discover" racial biases and disparities in practices, but to quantify them. 

However, the report does not offer extensive interpretation of its data except to indicate there is a problem. This leaves undecided whether these disparities represent the persistence of historical discriminatory procedures and factors, or rather refer to a process aimed at reconstituting racist institutional policies and structures. The first possibility imposes the task of fully alleviating the effects of an iniquitous past. The second presents the possibility that we are facing some kind of Jim Crow resurgence. Though common wisdom might hope that we are constantly dispensing with what we inherit from the past as a steady democratization process, the fact that racial disparities in police operations was rising continually from 2012 to 2016 might suggest the latter. In other words, the form that institutional "racism" takes must be evaluated as an historical process, as well as how it is embedded in its cultural environment. As long as policy is protected by institutional insularity, the problem will remain out of reach. 

The report warns against what it calls a “social dominance orientation” for the police, which is a weighted term that remains undefined. It appears to refer to the hierarchy of internal discipline. Yet one of the major sources of dispute between people and the police has been the issue of obedience between the police and civil society. In most states, legislation has been passed requiring absolute obedience to police commands, to the point where each officer can adopt the role of a military commanding officer, resistance to whom may result in immediate arrest. 

Insofar as the data indicates strong racial biases, it infers both traditional dominance (the power to stop), racialized dominance (profiling), and institutional dominance (the militarization of public interaction) in ordinary police operations. The report recommends that officers pay attention to how their behavior appears, without addressing their militarization of the "scenes" in which it appears. 

In that sense, the term "racism" becomes relevant as a term of appearance. Racialized traffic stops depend for the most part on the appearance of the driver for the officer. The term “racist” appears only once in the report, in one of the 13 recommendations, in which “scenario-based training” is suggested to “protect officers from the negative consequences of concerns that they will appear racist.” It is a tricky inversion, since it addresses the appearance of an officer’s comportment rather than the centrality of the driver’s appearance with respect to racial disparities in traffic stops.