Guest Opinion: The Racial and Class Divide in Pasadena Policing – Will the Ostriches Prevent Addressing It?

Published : Sunday, April 17, 2016 | 3:29 PM

Approximately half of Pasadenans believe that the Pasadena Police Department treats whites better than minorities and the wealthy better than the poor. Pasadena’s ostriches – the police unions, some City Council Members, some residents – continue to hide their heads in the sand pretending there is no problem. The ostriches contend that increased civilian oversight of the Pasadena PD is just agitation from a small minority with a solution in search of a problem. But the ostriches suffered a serious setback last week from two reports commissioned by the City: (1) the “Community Perceptions of Pasadena Policing” Report that shows essentially no change nor improvement in police-community attitudes for a decade and (2) “Analysis of Police Oversight Models” Report that recommends that Pasadena hire an Independent Police Auditor (IPA).

Two surveys of police-community attitudes showing no significant change for a decade

The 2006 Police Assessment Research Center (PARC) survey of Pasadena residents and Pasadena police officers disclosed (1) an overall positive view of the Pasadena PD but a race and class divide between the extremely favorable perceptions of White/wealthy residents and the less favorable views of the minority/less-wealthy residents and (2) some troubling views of minorities by a minority of police officers. The City hired Cal State LA criminal justice professor Lisa Graziano to redo the 2006 PARC survey – except that the City narrowed it to survey only community attitudes but not police attitudes. A representative sample of 1197 Pasadena residents were interviewed in the current survey, split approximately evenly between Whites, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

The current survey shows that essentially no change has occurred in a decade because basically the same racial and class divides exist. To the extent there are changes in the results from 2006 to now, more survey responses overall appear to show slightly worse community perceptions of the police – but at such a minimal degrees as to be statistically insignificant.

Only 31% of Pasadenans support the ostriches

The current survey directly rebuts the ostriches’ assertions that only a small minority of Pasadenans see any policing problems. Only 31% of Pasadenans disagreed or strongly disagreed when asked if Pasadena PD officers were more likely to treat Whites better than minorities and when asked if they were more likely to treat the wealthy better than the poor. 47% agreed or strongly agreed that PD officers were more likely to treat Whites better than minorities and 49% agreed or strongly agreed that they were more likely to treat the wealthy better than the poor. (The remaining 21% and 19% respectively responded that they didn’t know). We don’t have the raw data, but undoubtedly it is true that the White and more wealthy areas of Pasadena had higher than 31% of their residents disagreeing that PD policing differs along race and class lines. Yet it is unlikely that even a majority of Pasadenans in any area disagree that the PD policing tilts against minorities and the poor. And with an overall near majority of Pasadenans agreeing that the PD policing is skewed along racial and wealth line, more than a majority of Pasadena’s minority and less wealthy areas think there is racially and class-biased policing.

It may seem counter-intuitive that strong majorities view the Pasadena PD favorably but significant parts of that strong majority also see the racial and class divide in Pasadena policing. But there are many favorably-perceived institutions in our society – good businesses, strong not-for-profits, good schools, etc. – that also recognize they still have a long distance to go to overcome racial injustice and economic inequality. Pasadenans’ perceptions of their PD thus are not atypical.

Pasadenans clearly see a problem in Pasadena that the ostriches cannot sweep under the rug.

The broad organizational support for an Independent Police Auditor

The Coalition for Independent Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP) is a 2 ½ year-old coalition of Pasadena area organizations who studied police oversight models and are advocating that Pasadena hire an independent police auditor. An IPA would be a professional with a relevant law, police science, auditing and/or police background who would be independent of the PD; CICOPP advocates that the IPA report to the City Council, which would require the IPA to be an independent contractor rather than a City employee. Pasadena has used on an ad hoc basis outside auditors or reviewers – the OIR Group to review the killings of LeRoy Barnes and Kendrec McDade by PD officers and the Veritas Group to investigate the troubled Pasadena PD homicide detectives department. An IPA would provide systematic rather than ad-hoc independent review of critical incidents and PD policies and practices.

The breadth of the organizations within CICOPP whose memberships have all supported the IPA proposal also belies the ostriches’ contention that the push for independent review of the PD is a small minority. CICOPP includes the Pasadena NAACP, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance whose pastors lead thousands of congregants in Northwest Pasadena, the YWCA of Greater Pasadena, the Pasadena Area chapter of the ACLU, the grassroots political organization ACT, two local Democratic party clubs, two large local churches (All Saints Episcopal Church and the Neighborhood Unitarian-Universalist Church), Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, the Pasadena Latino Forum, and the Pasadena Community Coalition, as well as many local Pasadena residents. CICOPP speaks for a significant part of Pasadena and is not just a tiny outlier group.

The City consultants weigh in to support an IPA

The Report of the consultants hired by the City to study police oversight models was released Thursday with the agenda for Monday night’s 7:15 pm joint City Council/Public Safety Committee meeting. Consultants Kathryn Olson and Barbara Attard spent 3 days in Pasadena in late January meeting with and taking testimony from a broad spectrum of Pasadena stakeholders. The input to them included input from the police union and other ostriches urging that the need for police oversight was contrived by a small band of activists with an agenda. But the Consultants’ recognized the broad-based need for PD reform.

The Consultants’ Report recommends that Pasadena adopt the IPA model. Their Report notes that an IPA addresses the concern of the police union that police officers should not be subjected to review by persons without professional qualifications.

The Consultants’ Report anchors the need for an IPA in the perception of differential Pasadena policing based on race: “While a majority of stakeholders expressed their respect and support for the Pasadena Police Department, many of the same individuals and others indicated that civilian oversight was needed to remedy real or perceived differences in policing of African American and Latino neighborhoods, particularly in Northwest Pasadena. As noted by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, ‘some form of civilian oversight is important in order to strengthen trust with the community.’”

Moving forward to make a good Pasadena PD better

The good news for the Pasadena PD is that, despite the broad perception that there is a problem of racially/wealth-based policing in Pasadena, the current survey indicates that the Pasadena PD is favorably viewed by a strong majority of Pasadenans – and Pasadenans view their PD as significantly better than they view police departments nationally. The ostriches thus err in contending that recognizing the need for and advocating reform is inconsistent with recognition of the strengths of the PD and its officers.

Thus, the overall favorable perception of the PD coexisting with the perception of a problem with racially/wealth-biased policing shows that the IPA reform will not damage Pasadena policing. Rather, it will move a good Department forward to its becoming an even better Department.

The City Council should move forward expeditiously to implement the Consultants’ recommendation to adopt an IPA. The IPA issue has now been studied extensively in the community for 2 ½ years and in Public Safety Committee and Council meetings before the Consultants’ January visit. Mayor Tornek’s 2015 winning campaign included his expressly supporting the IPA reform. The Consultants’ Report adds another layer of study to Pasadena’s previously well-developed knowledge on the IPA proposal. So it is time to promptly decide on and hire an IPA.

The Consultants’ Report also recommends a Police Accountability Commission (“PAC”) that would work to establish better communications between the community and the police. Unlike the IPA proposal, the PAC proposal has not been broadly vetted in Pasadena. We thus recommend that the City Council promptly create an IPA position and defer the PAC proposal until the IPA is on board and a more informed consideration in which the IPA would be involved as to how to enhance community-police interaction can occur.

Skip Hickambottom and Dale Gronemeier are local civil rights attorneys.

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