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Racial Profiling: Police Bias in Traffic Stops

By San Diego Attorney on February 15, 2024

A dark skinned man being handcuffed by a white officer.

Most Americans believe racial profiling is a real, widespread issue. For others, it is an old problem with a new name. Racial profiling is defined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.” If you are a member of a racial minority group, this form of discrimination can increase the risk of bias exhibited toward you during a traffic stop.

Police Racial Bias: Unveiling the Reality

Assembly Bill 953, also known as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), was signed into law by the California Governor in 2015. Since then, law enforcement agencies have been required to collect specific demographic data to help understand how police interactions may be affected by a subject’s race. The studies based on the information produced by the RIPA Board show a similar trend over the last couple of years. The most recent RIPA Board report shows:

  • 1 million California traffic stops were made over the course of one year.
  • Of all racially ethnic groups, individuals perceived by officers to be Black had the highest rate of being searched (20.1%), detained (17.9%), and handcuffed (15.4%).
  • Officers searched and removed from vehicles by order more Black individuals than White individuals despite stopping over twice the number of White individuals as Black individuals.
  • Officers were 1.24 times and 1.09 times as likely to use force during a traffic stop for Black and Hispanic individuals, respectively.
  • Despite the higher rates of search and detainment for Black individuals, officers reported taking no action (making no arrest or citation) most frequently after stopping individuals perceived to be Black, “indicating those stopped Black individuals were not engaged in criminal activity.”

Put simply, California law enforcement agencies have been statistically proven to stop, search, and detain individuals they perceive to be Black or Brown at a higher rate than other races.

Know Your Rights: Navigating a Traffic Stop

If you find yourself being pulled over, searched, or detained in what you feel may be a racially motivated traffic stop, these points could be helpful to remember:

  •  Remain calm and collected. Getting agitated or upset will make it harder to convince officers you are not a threat. Speak in a level, polite tone when responding to questions.
  • Move in a slow and controlled manner. Remember that those questioning or directing you may be afraid for their safety based on an unconscious bias. Sudden movements could startle them and cause them to act rashly. Stay in control by moving slowly and deliberately while informing the officers of what you are doing.
  • You do not have to give the police permission to search your vehicle. The police must have a “reasonable suspicion” or a warrant to search your car. If they don’t have either, they may ask your permission. If they are asking, you do not have to say yes.
  • You have the right to remain silent. Even if you are not under arrest, you are not required to do or say anything that could be self-incriminating. You will need to provide your license and proof of insurance, but if you feel uncomfortable about any other questions, you can politely decline. You may also say that you wish to speak to an attorney first.

Police Accountability and Reform

Some actions are being taken to increase police accountability and bring about reform when it comes to racial profiling. Many California law enforcement agencies now require their officers to wear body cameras and provide training for fair and unbiased policing practices. But the road to a more balanced and equitable society is long. It will take continued community engagement and public awareness campaigns to bring about further change.

Do Not Let Injustice Stop You

If you have been accused of a crime as a result of a traffic stop and you feel racial profiling was involved, call jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys for your defense. As an experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer who has been serving Southern California residents for over 30 years, James N. Dicks is not afraid to stand up for what is right. He has what it takes to protect your rights and safeguard your future.

Let us help you move forward with life—call (760) 630-2000 for a free review of your case. We speak English and Spanish.

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