A local watchdog group is again raising concerns about the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, saying the law enforcement agency refuses to address its high incidence of racial profiling.
Marin County Sheriff Jamie Scardina disputed the department’s need to make policing policy changes when I interviewed him last week. While Scardina said that he didn’t have time yet to review a report by Mill Valley Force for Racial Equity & Empowerment (MVFREE), the information it contained came from data provided by the sheriff’s office.
MVFREE analyzed the data for almost 4,500 stops, including pedestrian, traffic and calls for service, from April 2021 through March 2022, which it obtained through a public records request. The results reflect the anecdotal evidence that people of color in Marin have talked about for years.
The sheriff’s office stopped Black people at almost nine times the rate of white people, according to MVFREE. Latinx people did not fare well either. They were stopped at more than twice the rate of white people.
Some might believe the stop rates by the sheriff’s office indicate that Black and Latinx people commit more crimes than white people; however, that presumption is biased and false, Tammy Edmonson, a member of MVFREE, said during an interview. The data shows that the agency releases Black, Latinx and white people—without arrest or citation—at the same rate.
“I sent the information to the sheriff months ago,” Edmonson said. “Then I submitted questions to him about it during a Marin Coalition forum on policing. He was dismissive of the data.”
The sheriff’s data collection is required under AB 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), state legislation passed in 2015. Law enforcement agencies must gather and report on 16 categories of information every time a stop is conducted. The data includes the perceived race of the individual detained, the reason for the stop, all actions taken by the officer and the outcome.
The purpose of RIPA is to eliminate racial and identity profiling in law enforcement. The RIPA advisory board reviews the data reported by agencies throughout the state. In January, the board issued a report summarizing the data collected by 58 agencies during 2021.
On average, those reporting agencies stopped Black people at 2.75 times the rate of white people, with Latinx people stopped at a rate 1.3 times higher than white people, based on MVFREE’s analysis of the RIPA board’s report.
“The Marin County Sheriff’s Office stop disparities of Latinx and Black people were among the highest of all 58 reporting agencies in the state,” Edmonson said.
Yet, Scardina, who has been with the department for 23 years, remains doubtful that the collected data provides enough information for a complete analysis.
“I don’t have too much confidence in the RIPA board,” Scardina said. “The RIPA data doesn’t paint the entire picture. It’s a little flawed. The data is not taking into consideration several important factors. So, we started keeping data on two additional categories, and I don’t think that it’s being analyzed.”
One of those categories is whether the person stopped is a Marin resident. This has long been a concern for Scardina. In fact, he mentioned it to me during a February 2021 interview about the first four months of RIPA data reported by the sheriff’s office. Three months later, the department began tracking Marin residency information for each stop.
Indeed, MVFREE analyzed the stop data for Marin residents only, and it is likely not what Scardina expected. Sixty percent of the people stopped by the sheriff’s office are residents of Marin. The racial disparity rates were even higher than when the visitor stops were included in the data, with Black residents stopped at 10.1 times the rate of white residents.
The stop rate for Latinx residents remained about the same as the rate of overall stops of Latinx people.
Also in May 2021, the sheriff’s department began collecting data on whether the officer noted the race of the person before the stop. Scardina said that 85% of the time, the officer did not know.
I pressed the sheriff on the validity of that statistic. After all, Black, Latinx and white people are all released without an arrest or citation at the same rate. What then, I asked, could account for the extremely high disparity of stop rates for people of color over white people—residents or visitors?
“I want to look at the data you’re talking about,” Scardina said. “I know she [Edmonson] sent me a bunch of it, and I would like to have an opportunity to look into that.”
Fair enough, but the data came from the sheriff’s department. I took a gander at the limited amount of RIPA information posted on the department’s website and was able to quickly confirm MVFREE’s analysis of the stop rates for Black and Latinx people over white people during the specified year. MVFREE obtained the complete raw data set.
Back in that February 2021 interview that I had with Scardina, when he still held the undersheriff position, he indicated that the sheriff’s office would analyze the RIPA data.
“We’ll use the data to identify any disparities that we may have within the sheriff’s office,” Scardina said at the time. “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.”
Now that Scardina is the sheriff, appointed to the role in June 2022, his perspective seems to have changed. Instead, he places the responsibility on the shoulders of lawmakers, not law enforcement.
“Every single agency that I’ve heard of that [has] analyzed the RIPA data—there are disparities across the board,” Scardina said last week. “I’m in the business of enforcing the laws that are on the books. If certain acts need to be passed to keep law enforcement from doing certain types of traffic stops for low-level infractions, that needs to be passed by legislation.”
Several jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Berkeley and Los Angeles, have recently limited police stops for minor traffic infractions. These low-level violations are often used by law enforcement as a pretext stop, allowing an officer to fish for more serious crimes. Pretext stops disproportionately target people of color.
Passing legislation to restrict pretext stops may address some of the issues, but MVFREE has suggestions for policies that the Marin County Sheriff’s Office could establish. Although the department has a “bias-free policing policy,” MVFREE believes the sheriff should include “the enforceable requirements, practical guidance and accountability measures of the RIPA model.”
The group also calls on Scardina to increase the number of anti-bias training courses provided for personnel. The agency currently meets only the minimum statutory requirement of one course every five years, Edmonson said.
The human cost in not implementing new policies is great, according to MVFREE. They point to the statistics, including that Black Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to be shot and killed by police.
A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 41% of Black people in this country reported they’ve been stopped or detained by police because of their race. And 30% of Black men said they have been the victim of police violence.
As a Black woman who is the mother of three boys, Celimene Pastor, an MVFREE member, is extremely concerned about the sheriff’s position and rejects it. The legislature, she maintains, passed the RIPA act to enable law enforcement agencies to examine their racial disparities in policing. Scardina now must do his part, according to Pastor.
“Not only does racial profiling endanger the lives of Black and Brown people, but it also creates mistrust in law enforcement,” Pastor said. “The sheriff needs to do his job by addressing the data so that he may better serve communities of color.”