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How One San Diego Agency Is Complying With Law To Combat Racial Profiling

San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Scroggins takes part in a gang suppre...

Photo by Ana Tintocalis

Above: San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Scroggins takes part in a gang suppression operation in Vista.

If you're pulled over by a law enforcement agent in California, that officer may be making note of your ethnicity, gender and other identifying details as part of an effort to eliminate profiling by police.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA, requires agencies document information, which will eventually be made public, about people they stop and share it with the state for analysis. The law, proposed in 2015 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, established a system to track any discrimination by police and hold departments accountable.

Data collection began July 1 for the state's largest agencies, including the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. KPBS reviewed the department’s training materials and communications, obtained through a public records act request, to explain how the agency is complying with the new law.

How This Impacts You

The first thing you should know is officers are not supposed to directly ask your race, ethnicity or other identifying information for their RIPA stop report. They must determine this based on their perception, so you may not even notice when officers are documenting information about you.

However, Weber said in an interview, she believes it could cause interactions to be more effective, which the public may notice.

"They might, because what we've seen is that when you have to turn on a body camera or you have to collect data or you have to do something, you're much more purposeful in your activity," she said.

RELATED: What The Racial And Identity Profiling Act Can Teach Everyone About Bias

What They're Collecting

Document

Temporary RIPA Form

Temporary RIPA Form

A paper form to collect Racial and Identity Profiling Act-required information that San Diego County Sheriff's Department deputies are expected to use if they do not have access to a digital application.

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The Sheriff’s Department said there are 21 to 35 questions in a typical RIPA stop report, with 117 possible selections. They include details about who made the stop; when, where and why it happened; how long it took and what actions the officer made.

The report won’t include your name or other identifiable details, but it will include perceptions the officer has about you: your race or ethnicity, gender, age, ability to speak English, whether you have a disability and if you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.

These answers are to be based on what an officer thinks and can’t be changed, even if an officer later learns they were wrong. For example, if an officer thought someone was Hispanic and later learns they were Asian, they must mark Hispanic because that was the officer’s perception.

How They're Logging The Data

Animated GIF of app

This is a mock-up of the RIPA app based on screen shots included in documents received from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department under a state public records act request. (Phil Nenna/KPBS)

The Sheriff's Department created a mobile app to document data required under RIPA. Documents show the app reduced what the department said would’ve been a "daunting requirement." The agency tested it with more than 30 deputies in Vista and San Marcos and found after regular use, it added about three to five minutes to each stop.

The agency shared its app with the San Diego Police Department and sheriff’s offices in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It also posted the code publicly online.

When They Do And Don't File A Report

The law requires officers log a RIPA record for detentions, searches and consensual searches, a sheriff's spokeswoman said in a July email.

"It is the detention aspect that triggers the creation of a RIPA record, not simply asking questions or having a discussion of someone," the spokeswoman wrote. "Therefore, as a simplified example, a casual conversation about the Padres would not be included in the RIPA reporting guidelines, but stopping someone who matches a suspect description and is not free to leave, then asking them questions regarding their whereabouts during specific timeframe would."

But documents provided under a records request show there are cases where that may not be required.

For example, the race, ethnicity, age and other required information is mandated for a driver when they’re pulled over, but it’s not always needed for the passenger. Officers also don’t have to log the information when a person is served an arrest or search warrant at their home. But they do have to log it if they detain or search anyone else inside that home.

It’s also not required in detention facilities or during routine security checks, such as a weapons screening at public buildings. But they do have to file a report if that screening results in a detention.

Uploading The Data

Then the data — minus officers' names — will be shared with the state to make it public. The state RIPA board will use it to make policy recommendations.

But there may be some technical issues to solve. In a May 2018 memo, a sheriff's RIPA committee said it expected difficulties to arise when uploading data to the state and that it needed to "work out an error reconciliation process with DOJ, who may have problems with specific entries of the way that we collect data."

In a July follow-up email, a sheriff's spokeswoman said it had not yet resolved the problem.

"No, we are still in the process of determining how we address error reconciliation," the spokeswoman wrote.

However, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Justice said the agency had already conducted testing with the sheriff's office and wasn't expecting problems.

Regardless of the data-sharing process, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore wrote in a department email that he was looking forward to the results. He said, “I am confident, and initial testing has proven, our data reflects the communities we serve and there will be no identified bias on the part of our personnel.”

The first deadline to submit RIPA data to the state is next April. It will be made public and be analyzed by the state’s RIPA board by 2020.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act requires California's law enforcement agencies to document and report the perceived race, ethnicity and other information about the people they stop.

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