In response to one of two requests filed by the Pasadena Weekly under provisions of the state Public Records Act, Pasadena police stated officers do not collect information about race, gender or age from people pulled over in traffic stops.
Last year, Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez was asked to have his officers start collecting this type of information by City Councilman John Kennedy, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee. But the program was not implemented, and those records do not exist.
In response to the newspaper’s second PRA request, officials said 27 officers have entered the department from different agencies since 2014 — including two involved in the high-profile beating of Altadena motorist Christopher Ballew in November.
Known as “lateral transfers,” these are fully trained police officers who are allowed to maintain their ranks when they enter the department.
“As the chair of the Public Safety Committee and vice mayor, I am respectfully demanding that City Manager Steve Mermell implement the Race and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), AB953, immediately and with all deliberate speed,” Kennedy wrote in a text message to the newspaper on Monday.
Mayor Terry Tornek also said he doesn’t think the department should wait until 2023 to begin collecting data.
“I’d like to see us start it early,” Tornek said. “I think it could help.”
AB953 forces all California police departments to report information collected at traffic stops regarding race, gender, age and other details about the encounter to the state Department of Justice by 2023.
Despite the many investigations, commission hearings and reforms that grew out of the Watts Riots of 1965, the LA Riots following the 1992 acquittal of the four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King, not to mention the many officer-involved shooting deaths of unarmed black men and women over the past several decades, this type of information has never been collected by California police departments.
The state’s nine largest law enforcement agencies — including the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — are currently in the process of beginning their data collection programs, information that will now go on file with the state Department of Justice each year. The San Diego Police Department started its collection program in 2016.
Smaller departments, like Pasadena, are not required to begin reporting that type of information until 2023, but must have a data collection system set up and operating by then.
Last year, Sanchez said he was not opposed to implementing the program early. But, “I wouldn’t want to be premature by collecting data that we’re not supposed to collect,” said the chief, adding “not enough details have been provided by the state at this point.”
According to Sanchez, collecting such information could extend each traffic stop by 20 minutes.
Under the new law, officers are required to compile a report listing the reason for the stop, the result of the stop, and the perceived race, gender and approximate age of the motorist. Officers also must reveal if they received consent to search the vehicle, and details on the seizure of property.
“AB953 will be the state’s first step toward not only understanding the problem of racial profiling, but also toward formulating policies to reduce the practice and its devastating consequences,” legislation author Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) said soon after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2015.
“California is going in a new direction on this issue. Hopefully, this will set an example for other states,” Weber said.
The first call made locally to start collecting this type of data came last year from the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena (CICOPP), which asked Sanchez and Mermell last fall to implement RIPA much earlier than 2023.
“They said they could consider earlier implementation,” said CICOPP member Kris Ockershauser. “They reaffirmed that more recently and said possibly 2022.”CICOPP is now calling for implementation of a 2018 pilot program to start collecting this type of information.
The group said the Ballew incident and a recent city survey revealing that 72 percent of African American residents polled and 46 percent of Latino residents reported being racially profiled by Pasadena police points to the need for reform and additional information gathering.
Questions about the use of lateral transfers have been asked in response to the Nov. 9 incident involving Ballew. The 21-year-old was repeatedly struck with a metal baton and punched by officers during the encounter. Ballew suffered a lacerated forehead after his head was rammed into asphalt. He also suffered a broken fibula in his left leg after he was struck three times on his legs with the baton.
The incident occurred after Officers Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza followed Ballew into a gas station on the city’s border with Altadena. The officers were heading into Altadena when they noticed Ballew driving south into Pasadena and began pursuing him. Police have said the officers noticed his car had no front license plate and too much tint on the front window.
Lujan entered the department as a lateral three years ago from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he worked in the county jail system. Esparza joined the department about a year ago after leaving the Bakersfield Police Department.
Both officers remain on duty despite an internal affairs investigation into the incident.
At the Jan. 8 City Council meeting, local activists packed the council chambers and demanded that Lujan and Esparza be fired.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Tornek said. “We will continue to review the process and continue our investigation. There is an opinion that the Police Department does not communicate well. We hear the calls for transparency and we want to be transparent as we can. One of the things that makes this hard is many people don’t understand even if we discipline the officers, the California Police Officers Bill of Rights prohibits what we can reveal.”
Civil rights attorney John Burton of Pasadena has been retained by the Ballew family and has filed a claim for damages against the police and the city. The filing of a claim is usually the first step in suing a public agency.
City Public Information Officer William Boyer told the Weekly the city was only able to provide the number of lateral transfers, but not documents related to training policies or which departments they came from.
In 2014, Sanchez said he began actively recruiting lateral transfers after the number of officers in the department fell due to a number of retirements and transfers out of the department over salary issues. At that point, local police officers had not received a raise since 2007, and staffing numbers dropped to 219 sworn officers, well below the department’s optimum number of 240.
It was not immediately known whether lateral transfers receive additional training after being hired to work in Pasadena.