Marin County Policing Data Shows Racial Disparity in Stops, Arrests

A Black person in Marin City is 50% more likely than a white person to be stopped for a traffic violation by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, according to four months of data recently released online by the agency.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), created by California Assembly Bill 953, requires law enforcement agencies to collect and report 16 different data elements about every stop, including the perceived race or ethnicity of the person stopped. The purpose of RIPA is to eliminate racial and identity profiling in law enforcement.

Although the state has required the eight largest law enforcement agencies to report the data since 2018, the law doesn’t go into effect until 2023 for agencies the size of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.

Still, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office chose to begin posting partial RIPA data online on Sept. 30, more than two years ahead of schedule.

“We thought it was important,” Marin County Undersheriff Jamie Scardina said. “Quite frankly, it was an opportunity for us to be transparent with the community. They were asking for this information and we knew we were going to have to provide it in two years, so we decided, well, let’s do this now.”

The Sheriff’s Office currently reports about five of the 16 data elements which will eventually be required, including race statistics. The information is updated daily.

Marin County activist and retired business executive Frank Shinneman crunched the numbers for the first 128 days of the Marin County Sheriff’s RIPA data, from Sept. 30, 2020 through Feb. 5, 2021. He focused his analyses on Marin City and San Rafael using the reason for the stop and the result of the stop. The data was then narrowed to consider the rates at which Black and Latinx people are stopped versus white people. The findings show a troublesome trend.

In Marin City, a Black person compared to a white person is:

  • 50% more likely to be stopped for a traffic violation.
  • Three times more likely be stopped for reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
  • Five times more likely to be arrested with or without a warrant.            
  • 60% more likely to receive a warning.
  • Three times more likely to be let go without a warning or citation.

The total population of Marin City is 2,862, according to the 2010 United States Census, the latest available census data. The race breakdown is 36% Black, 36% White, 13% Latinx, 10% Asian, 1% Pacific Islander and 1% Native American.

Shinneman has drawn a couple of conclusions from his research and the initial data analysis. The higher stop rates combined with the higher rate of no action may indicate that deputies are more suspicious of Black people than white people. Marin City is also the training ground for newly hired young deputies, which has been criticized by activists for years and may account for racial profiling due to lack of experience.

Scardina believes there is a problem with the RIPA data collection because it does not reflect where the person resides. They could be from another Marin locale or from another county.

“The people that are being pulled over and that are being categorized under RIPA are not necessarily all Marin people,” Scardina said. “In Marin City, between those dates you have, we don’t know if those are actually Marin City residents.”

True. However, we do know based on the data how many Black people are stopped—whether they reside in Marin City or are just visiting. And that data shows they’re stopped and arrested much more frequently than white people.

A similar racial disparity is occurring in San Rafael for stops of the Latinx population by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. A Latinx person compared to a white person is:

  • Two times more likely to be stopped for traffic violations.
  • Two times more likely to receive a warning.
  • Five times more likely to receive a citation.

“I think this data provides what RIPA intended,” Shinneman said. “More transparency based on race.”

Undersheriff Scardina is not concerned with the trends identified, as he maintains analyzing four-months of data is not a long enough period of time.

“We have not analyzed it,” Scardina said. “We’ve certainly looked at it. But I think it’s still a little too soon. I mean it’s not even six months. I don’t know if we necessarily have a good sense of the data. I don’t know when a good time is. Do we look at this data in a year?”

If four months is not enough, let’s examine the racial disparity for more than three decades of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office arrests referred to prosecution. Activist Eva Chrysanthe collected 31 years of the data through the California Public Records Act.

“I just can’t believe what I’m looking at,” Chrysanthe said in an email. “For arrests referred to prosecution 1990 through 2020, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office on average was hitting Black individuals at over eight times their demographic presence in the county. In the year 2000, it was over 12 times their demographic presence.”

Chrysanthe, who is biracial, grew up in Mill Valley. She now resides in Berkeley but concentrates her activism on Marin County. Although she has been criticized for not releasing the data she collected and for refusing to be interviewed by the media, she did provide the Pacific Sun 31 years of raw data and her analyses for arrests referred to prosecution. In addition, she answered the questions posed to her via email and phone.

Her analyses for the last five years of data shows some improvement since 2000 with the Black population. Yet the numbers still remain extremely high from 2016 through 2020, again demonstrating the racial disparity that exists in Marin County.

“Black arrests referred to prosecution remain over eight times their demographic population, Latino arrests referred to prosecution remain generally above their demographic population and white arrests referred to prosecution remain under their demographic population,” Chrysanthe said in an email.

Without reforms, the data trends ferreted out by Shinneman and Chrysanthe will no doubt continue. Shining a light on the racial inequities may be the first step towards prompting systemic changes.

“As time goes on, we will analyze this [RIPA] data,” Scardina said. “We’ll use the data to identify any disparities that we may have within the Sheriff’s Office. And we’ll use that to evaluate ourselves in the department and look at the reasons and causes for those differences. If they continue, we’ll create policies or practices to eliminate those disparities.”

Given the abundance of data available, perhaps the time for analysis is now.

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Nikki Silverstein
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