California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation this weekend mandating that law enforcement agencies in the state collect and make public data on the racial makeup of all those encountered by police, The Los Angeles Times says that for civil rights activists, the measure is a big step toward protecting minorities from racial profiling. For many in law enforcement, it creates a massive new bureaucratic headache that will do little to illuminate the question of whether police treat minority groups fairly. “It’s a terrible piece of legislation,” said Lt. Steve James, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Assosication and the national trustee for the California Fraternal Order of Police. The law will require officers to collect data on anyone they stop, including “perceived” race and ethnicity, the reason for the encounter and whether arrests were made.
Law enforcement organizations, including the state Fraternal Order of Police and the 65,000-member Peace Officers Research Association of California, had asked Brown to veto the bill, arguing that its reporting requirements would be burdensome to police and costly to taxpayers. Said James: “We have contact with the public all the time that requires no documentation, no paperwork. Now, the amount of time we have to spend doing documentation and paperwork has gone up. The time doing menial tasks has gone up.” James contended that there is no racial profiling but rather “criminal profiling” by police. That position would be a hard sell to the bill’s supporters, who cited studies showing that unarmed black men are many times more likely to die by police gunfire than unarmed white men.