The largest police organization in California has released a scathing response to the state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board’s 2023 annual report, which accuses law enforcement agencies of being twice as likely to use force against people who cops perceive as being Black.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California, representing over 77,000 public safety workers in more than 950 associations, has put out its own study slamming RIPA’s report and claiming that there are serious methodological shortcomings and biases in the RIPA Board’s analysis, stating that it “failed to achieve the professional statistical rigor that is necessary to draw meaningful conclusions from which California’s policy and decision makers can reasonably rely on.”
RIPA returned fire, saying PORAC’s study has no substance, and is potentially harmful.
“I think it’s unsurprising that law enforcement special interest groups like PORAC try to put out responses that undermine significant data,” RIPA Board Co-Chair Dr. Melanie Ochoa tells LAMag. “From what I understand of PORAC’s criticism, it reflects a lack of understanding of the law and the content of the RIPA report.”
PORAC—also the largest statewide police association in the nation—denied the charges and blasted back, accusing the RIPA Board of distorting the facts to validate what it believes are preconceived biases against law enforcement.
“We feel pretty strongly that the vast majority of officers are just trying to do their jobs,” PORAC rep Ian Anderson says. “It’s not helpful or advantageous to lean unnecessarily into points of controversy that will serve to degrade trust between communities and law enforcement.”
RIPA counters arguments that it’s anti-law enforcement by pointing out that it is appointed by the California Attorney General, makes recommendations to the U.S. Department of Justice, and that representatives of DOJ sit in on meetings.
The board’s advisory relationship to DOJ does not dissuade PORAC in its harsh critique.
In a press release accompanying its analysis, PORAC insisted that the RIPA Board distorts the definition of racial profiling and ignores California Highway Patrol data—which accounts for 57.7 percent of all stops in the state. The police organization further alleges that RIPA failed to conduct a thorough literature review by excessively using TV reports and news articles. PORAC also says the board failed to adequately consider contextual factors that may account for stops beyond the basis of race or identity.
According to Ochoa, however, PORAC never raised concerns or criticism regarding the data analysis until the final RIPA Board meeting, at which the 2023 report was discussed. At that November 30 meeting, when PORAC’s RIPA board representative raised the group’s concerns—and even prefaced them by congratulating the DOJ on “a great report”—she felt the rep was unable provide any “substantive basis” for those concerns. Part of the problem, Ochoa says, is perhaps a too-narrow understanding of what actually constitutes racial profiling by definition.
“What PORAC seems to be saying,” Ochoa contends, “is that the only action that matters is if someone is stopped. The only action that matters is not just if someone is stopped.”
RIPA Board Co-Chair Dr. Steve Raphael adds that if PORAC finds fault with its use of TV and news coverage, such information was not used as a replacement for other data but as a means of providing context to demonstrates the urgency of the overarching problem.
“It’s a fair critique. I appreciate that,” Raphael says. “If the report just relied on news, that would be a problem. But there’s a lot of data as well.”
PORAC also questions the absence of California Highway Patrol data, but Ochoa responds that it was only omitted in cases where the report explores neighborhood stops, not on highways and other areas in CHP’s jurisdiction, which she says was an “intentional effort” to be fair. To this, PORAC offers a seemingly simple rebuke: CHP makes stops in neighborhoods, too.
PORAC President Brian Marvel acknowledges that the RIPA Report is symptomatic of a broader change in California’s approach to law enforcement, and not in a good way. “Legislatively in California, they’ve passed so many police reform bills they don’t even know if they’re effective,” Marvel says. “You’re talking about peoples’ lives. They’ve thrown all these changes in there and they haven’t even assessed if they’re doing more harm than good.”
On a human level, Anderson says that the RIPA report is counterproductive, exacerbating anti-law enforcement sentiment and leaving police feeling like the public hates them. “If they’re not willing to acknowledge the realities that cops face day to day, and put those in the appropriate context, they’re detracting from opportunities to address racial profiling.”
But if you ask Ochoa, PORAC is not so much interested in addressing racial profiling as it is in dissuading lawmakers from taking RIPA’s recommendations. And while she doesn’t believe anyone from the affected communities will read the PORAC report, she does believe that anyone entertaining PORAC’s analysis as legitimate is going to cause destructive confusion surrounding years of data that consistently show the same results regarding racial profiling in law enforcement.
“The writing is on the wall for law enforcement special interest groups that the public really wants to scale back police activity that is not furthering public safety,” Ochoa says. “RIPA Board is not the only body that has recommended an end to baseless searches and pretext stops… [PORAC’s analysis] is part of an effort to undermine those efforts to move the state forward.”