A state auditor’s report released on Tuesday, April 26, revealed that five California law enforcement agencies, including the San Bernardino Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, are not adequately guarding against racially and ethnically biased conduct.

In one glaring example, state auditors detailed in the 124-page report that San Bernardino police failed to consider the possible influence of bias despite indications it may have been present when two officers used force to detain a Latina woman whose family member had been involved in a traffic accident. State law specifically prohibits law enforcement officers from using racial and ethnic identity when deciding whether to detain or search a person.

The woman spoke only Spanish while the officers only spoke English. One officer later wrote in a report he believed the woman was “attempting to conceal evidence.” However, as the Police Department later noted, the officers had no way of knowing whether they had properly communicated with the woman.

“The officers appeared frustrated with the woman for little reason,” the audit says. “When the family member indicated the woman did not want to provide her identification, the officers immediately handcuffed the woman, during which her face hit a pole causing an injury. The department found this use of force was not appropriate.”

Despite the concerning elements of this encounter, San Bernardino police conducted only a routine use-of-force review and did not consider whether bias affected the way the officers handled the situation, the audit states.

San Bernardino police Sgt. Equino Thomas said in an email Tuesday that his department had just received the report and was reviewing it. He declined to comment further.

Corrections officers reviewed

The audit, which also reviewed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as well as the San Jose and Stockton police departments, detailed examples of bias among CDCR officers. In one instance, an officer filmed Black inmates and narrated “Black Lives Matter.” “He later explained he had been sarcastically responding to their sagging pants,” auditors wrote.

In a separate video, the same officer, while off duty, used the n-word several times while repeating song lyrics and also said in a sarcastic tone, “For George Floyd,” the audit says.

Another correctional officer acknowledged he had jokingly teased an incarcerated Black youth about watermelon and chicken, the audit states. The officer explained to investigators that he was trying to say, “Black people eat watermelon and chicken.”

CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in a statement Tuesday the agency remains committed to creating an environment that acknowledges the value of cultural awareness, while also reducing bias and eliminating any potential affiliations with hate groups or engaging in any activity that is in conflict with the duties of a peace officer.

“We hold our officers to a high standard, and will continue to explore opportunities to ensure the proper screening of individuals during peace officer recruitment, hiring, and ongoing employment, as well as holding people accountable for any misconduct inside and outside of the workplace,” Waters said.

Social media examples

Examples of racial and ethnic bias also were found in the social media posts of 17 officers, but the report did not identify the officers or which agencies they worked for.

One officer’s post included a photo of the billowing World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, that read: “Every time a Muslim stand up (sic) in Congress and tells us they are going to change the constitution, impeach our president, or vote for socialism, remember you swore you would never forget. They swore they would destroy us from within.”

Another officer’s post read: “Over 620,000 white people died to free black slaves. And still to this day not even 1 thank you and we’re now known as racists.”

Although the report did not specify which agencies the officers were affiliated with, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was clearly one of them.

In a statement Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department said it was made aware of alleged biased posts made by current and/or former personnel on social media sites. “We are reviewing those posts and appropriate administrative measures will be taken, if warranted,” the department said.

Public interactions

Racial and ethnic bias also was found in officer interactions with the public and among themselves at the law enforcement agencies reviewed, according to the audit.

One officer responding to a call about a Vietnamese woman predicted she was “5 foot 4 inches” tall, was “very skinny,” with “bad teeth” and a “very heavy accent,” according to the audit.

At another agency, two officers unlawfully arrested a Black man, and when he complained he was being mistreated because of his race, they said, “Martin Luther King would be offended at what you’re saying right now,” “You continually play the race card. … It’s fake,” and, “As a human being … it’s pretty disappointing how racist you are.”

According to the report, “The department reprimanded the officers for the unlawful arrest but did not formally analyze whether the officers’ conduct was biased and took no corrective action related to bias or professionalism.”

Although the biased conduct was generated by a small number of officers, the auditor noted the law enforcement agencies examined did not take a “comprehensive approach” to guard against bias.

State recommendations

The state has recommended that the agencies, among other things, adopt uniform definitions of biased conduct, ramp up training regarding bias, increase state Department of Justice oversight of the agencies, improve recruitment and hiring practices for a more diverse applicant pool, improve screening of applicants, strengthen relationships with the community, adequately investigate biased conduct, and develop more effective investigative and disciplinary action for such conduct.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed with the auditor regarding the need for “more robust community engagement strategies” and training, but said that can only be achieved by proper staffing and funding from other county stakeholders.

“The lack of staffing and funding severely limits the resources needed to support these essential programs,” according to the the department. “This audit will hopefully bring to light the importance of fully supporting the department. Resources which were not just identified by the department but now outside assessors as well.”


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