Today, Catalyst California’s (formerly Advancement Project California) new Reimagine Justice & Safety program released Reimagining Community Safety in California: From Deadly and Expensive Sheriffs to Equity and Care-Centered Wellbeing. This new report, produced in partnership with ACLU SoCal, reveals how sheriff’s departments across the state engage in patrol activities that undermine community safety, waste tremendous public dollars, and inflict devastating harms on communities of color. Highlighted counties include Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Riverside.
Examining data made available by the Racial & Identity Profiling Act, the report unpacks how sheriff’s departments use minor vehicle equipment and administrative issues to profile, harass, and extract economic resources from communities of color. This practice, known as pretextual stops, is a repackaged version of the way vagrancy laws, Black codes, and Jim Crow law were enforced to maintain racial and economic oppression under the guise of “safety.”
The report explains how:
- Rather that addressing community concerns about serious crime, sheriff’s departments waste millions of dollars conducting pretextual stops for minor traffic violations that do not improve roadway safety. For example, data show that amongst all stops, deputies in Los Angeles and Riverside counties spend nearly 9 out of every 10 hours on stops initiated by officers rather than responding to calls for help from community members. And amongst those officer-initiated stops, approximately 80% are for traffic violations.
- Black, Latinx, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Californians are far more likely to be subject to pretextual stops. In Sacramento, for example, Black people are nearly 5 times more likely to be stopped for non-moving violations (e.g., registration or other administrative issues) than white people.
- Sheriff’s departments racially biased patrol activities inflict devastating harms, including dehumanization, degraded public health, economic extraction through fees and fines, physical violence through uses of force, and devaluation of life.
- Policymakers should work with communities disproportionately impacted by racially biased law enforcement to limit the use of pretextual stops and invest in care- and equity-centered solutions that make roadways safer and enable low-income communities of color to thrive.
Reimagining California’s approach to community safety is long overdue. Our state and local governments must recognize that outdated “tough-on-crime” approaches not only fail to meaningfully advance safety, but also disproportionately harm communities of color by annually funneling billions of dollars to sheriff’s departments that prioritize racially biased patrol activities.