Civil Rights Coalition Releases Statistics Its Says Confirm Pasadena Police Anti-Gang Unit Is Guilty of Racial Profiling

City responds that Pasadena street gangs consist primarily of African-American and Latino members, and the contacts of gang section officers would reflect that.

Published : Wednesday, August 7, 2019 | 5:51 AM

[Updated] A local police oversight advocacy group on Tuesday released statistics it said “confirm” that Pasadena Police Department’s Special Enforcement Section officers are guilty of racial profiling.

Pasadena officials responded that the Section’s officers contact mostly Hispanic and African-American motorists during gang violence suppression patrols because Pasadena gangs are primarily made up of those racial groups.

In the release issued by the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP), Retired Irvine Police Department Deputy Chief Jeffrey Noble — hired by attorney John Burton as an expert witness in the upcoming Ballew vs The City of Pasadena civil case — cited a recent study of 197 Field Interview cards filled out by Pasadena Special Enforcement Section officers after traffic stops during 2016, 2017 and the first half of 2018.

According to Noble, while the communities of Pasadena and Altadena are majority white, 44.1% of the Field Interview card subjects stopped by the anti-gang unit officers are black, 54.8% are Hispanic, and only 1% are white.

The report noted that during the 197 traffic stops, 31 black motorists, 43 Hispanic motorists, and one white motorist, were made to sit on the curb by SES officers during the traffic stops.

The coalition said that arrest and citation data for 2016 and 2017 provided by the City also shows there is “persuasive evidence that the SES ‘gang suppression’ detail deliberately used pretext stops for reasons other than to enforce the Vehicle Code. Under the equal protection clause, any such program must be race neutral, but data show this one [Pasadena’s] was not.”

Pasadena officials said they could not confirm the figures.

“The arrest and other data was compiled by an expert witness paid for by Mr. Ballew’s attorney in litigation against the city,” City spokesperson Lisa Derderian responded.

Tuesday’s announcement by the oversight coalition comes ahead of a civil trial stemming from a violent confrontation between Altadena resident Christopher Ballew and SES officers during a traffic stop in November of 2017. The incident was caught on a cell phone video which angered many Altadena and Pasadena residents. Ballew suffered a broken leg and other injuries in the incident.

Although Ballew was arrested, the District Attorney declined to file any charges after the incident.

Oversight advocates have demanded that Pasadena immediately implement California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 (known as RIPA). The law would require all law enforcement officers to report data from traffic stops including possible racial or sexual identity profiling. The City has not yet set a date for implementation of the law.

Derderian said that City staff anticipate discussing RIPA at the City Council’s Public Safety Committee’s next meeting, currently scheduled for August 21.

Reacting to the statistics released Tuesday, Councilmember John Kennedy, chair of the Public Safety Committee, told Pasadena Now Tuesday that “Police Chief John Perez has agreed to take affirmative steps to eliminate racial profiling by the Pasadena Police Department, if it exists.”

Kennedy said he hopes to soon see data the shows new police training has had “an appreciable positive impact on the troubling statistics shared in the press release.”

“I have consistently urged City Manager Steve Mermell to implement California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 (RIPA) well in advanced of its legally mandated requirement,” Kennedy said in a Tuesday evening email. “Collecting such data will help ensure that the Pasadena Police Department is in full compliance with our State and Federal Constitutions as well as applicable laws.  We anticipate discussing this issue at the August 21st Public Safety Committee meeting.”

In Tuesday’s announcement Chief Noble concluded that the real purpose of the Pasadena SES officers’ traffic stops was unconstitutional and was designed to prepare Field Information cards on them, to check for warrants, and to search vehicles.

But Derderian said the conclusions are designed to favor the plaintiff’s litigation which paid for the report, not to objectively review the overall work of the Pasadena Police Department.

“They do not properly recognize that the Pasadena Police Department’s Special Enforcement Section is responsible for suppression of violent, street level crimes, specifically gang and youth violence,” she said.

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