Berkeley police stop and search Black residents more often, Police Review Commission finds

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Alvin Wu/File

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In a city where Black residents make up less than 10 percent of the population, Black residents are six times more likely to experience police use of force than white residents, according to a Police Review Commission, or PRC, report titled “To Achieve Fairness and Impartiality.”

Berkeley City Council is set to discuss the racial disparities detailed in the PRC report at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night. The commission developed the report to examine the Berkeley Police Department’s treatment of Berkeley residents, specifically focusing on how communities of color are impacted.  

PRC compiled and reviewed data published by BPD regarding its pedestrian stops and searches in 2015. In addition, the report cites data and analysis from a drafted report by Center for Policing Equity, or CPE.

“We’ve been hearing anecdotal reports for years from the African American and Latino communities about repeated patterns of repeated stops,” said George Lippman, PRC commissioner. “While there has been no analysis of that raw data by the department, it’s possible to download it into a spreadsheet and determine the patterns. And the patterns are clear: There is disparate treatment.”

Lippman said in the PRC report that three key indicators of this disparate treatment are highlighted: the number of pedestrian stops, the number of searches that follow stops and the “yield rates” after searches. The yield rate is the percentage of individuals from each racial group who are stopped and whose stop results in an arrest or citation.

In all three of these quantities, it was found that there was a disparity between the treatment of Black pedestrians and that of white pedestrians. The report states that Black pedestrians were 3.5 times more likely to be stopped by the police than were white pedestrians.

“The most revealing statistic is not the stop rate by race, but the yield rate by race. … Too low a yield rate suggests that a population may be getting stopped without reasonable suspicion or searched without probable cause,” the report states. “The yield rate, when viewed on a large data base such as this one, is a truer test than the stop rate of whether stops are being made without racial bias. This is because focusing on the yield removes the variable of rates of crime in different population groups.”

Lippman said the PRC found that Black and Latino residents who were stopped walked away with far fewer citations or arrests, adding that this indicates the individuals were being stopped without reason.

For vehicle stops in Berkeley, CPE found that there was a “strong racial disparity” between the vehicles stops for Black and white subjects. The center also found that the stop rate for Hispanic drivers was nearly double the rate for white drivers, though Hispanic people make up 11 percent of the city population.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said BPD sought out CPE to assist with analysis of the use of force and vehicle stop data in order to exhibit police transparency to the public.

It is, and always has been our intention to share that information once we have it,” Frankel said in an email. “Our officers receive training on racial profiling and inherent bias.  We have a general order dedicated to Fair and Impartial Policing … As a department we are committed to policing our community with equity.”

The PRC report makes a series of recommendations for city officials and BPD to act upon. Lippman said it is up to City Council to develop policy based on the report.

Among the recommendations, the commission asks that BPD continue data collection and analysis, accelerate the use of body cameras by all BPD officers and review policies “to determine the institutional causes for the disparity.” In addition, the report asks that officers begin to seek consent of an individual before they are searched and inform residents that they may refuse consent if there is no warrant or probable cause for the search.

“We need to address this as a community — that we are damaging the life prospects of the most marginalized of our community,” Lippman said. “Each stop has an effect. It has an effect on individuals and I believe contributes to disenchantment with people of color with this city and with how they’re treated here.”

Malini Ramaiyer is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.