Battling bias in policing | November 4, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 4, 2022

Battling bias in policing

What the data reveals about Palo Alto's effort at police reform

by Gennady Sheyner

In June 2020, days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minnesota and calls for "defunding the police" intensified across the nation, Palo Alto's civic leaders pledged to fight bias in local policing.

This story contains 8560 words.

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Posted by Barron Parker Too
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2022 at 10:56 am

Barron Parker Too is a registered user.

Sheyner reports a lot of data, and he sandwiches in the middle stories by the usual suspects of bad treatment decades ago. The impression to a casual reader is that there is in fact bias against blacks and Hispanics in policing. I note three things to readers:

(1) If you feel overwhelmed by data, just remember the adage that "there are liars, damned liars and statisticians." Each set of data has to be carefully analyzed, and this was not done here.

(2) As an example, there is a common but incorrect assumption that bias against blacks is demonstrated by the fact that blacks make up only 2% of the Palo Alto population but 11% of the police stops. In fact, the relevant percentages are the fraction of drivers (not residents!) in Palo Alto who are black, and the per-capita incidence rate of crime based on race. None of the relevant data were given here.

(3) All of the data has to be analyzed with the understanding that, for example, blacks commit a large percentage of the crime in Palo Alto. Therefore, the likelihood that blacks stopped by police are interrogated longer and arrested more often is not in any way proof of "profiling" or racial bias. It is more likely related directly to the demographics of crime in Palo Alto. For that reason, we are not able to assess bias based on the statistics that have been presented.

Posted by Weifeng Pan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2022 at 11:02 am

Weifeng Pan is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2022 at 11:29 am

felix is a registered user.

Extraordinary piece of research and reporting, Gennady. PA Weekly - you have done a great service to Palo Alto.

"Intrusive Actions" and "Frequency of Searches" data and charts particularly stood out for me. But then, there is so much compelling data in so many forms shining light on bias in its many forms, yes at times complicated and nuanced, but unavoidable in its overall reality and stunning in its impact.

The article states, "The city of Palo Alto does not have demographic data on the population that visits or works in the city." [so Gennady also included demographics of our 3 neighboring counties and found...] "Black people make up 5% of the population across the four counties, but 11% of stops in Palo Alto. Hispanic individuals make up 23% of the population in the four counties but constitute 30% of the persons stopped in Palo Alto."

As can be seen from the above, it will be vital that unbiased skilled analysis be done under city contract with someone with the requisite CV if we want to understand and make practical use of RIPA data reports to root out bias in our policing. This must be funded or there is no point in RIPA - it is just more data laying around.

For years, Implicit Bias Training has been scrutinized for not producing any discernable LASTING results. We should not be wasting money on this training. It is a short-term training giving the illusion, particularly to the public, that embedded bias is rooted out. Evidence is to the contrary as stated above.

Regarding canine use, at least stop allowing Palo Alto K-9 Officers and dogs to respond to police in other cities. We were recently sued and paid damages for the mauling of a man in Mountain View, while MV paid nothing. Limiting use in this way would reduce potential harm to people and paying for lawsuits.

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2022 at 11:46 am

staying home is a registered user.

Very happy to see the PAPD is complying with the law and tracking this information, more importantly that PAOnline is reporting it. Agree with the earlier comments that this is a lot of information to digest. I guess I am happy it isn't worse? But visibility and reporting is the start on making sure those in authority are held accountable for both positive and negative impacts on the community. Glad to see PAPD will be increasing its diversity with new recruits.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2022 at 11:59 am

felix is a registered user.

One last comment - Our city recognizes police bias.
It resolved in June of 2020 among othe things to, " our police and public safety practices with the community and then implement measures that reflect no tolerance for police violence, prejudice, discrimination, and harm".

It is a work in progress. Much has been accomplished by all, including the PAPD and there is much more to do. With Chief Binder on board, there is cautious optimism that continued progress will be discernable and PAPD could perhaps become a model of fine policing for all people. I would be all in with that.

What won't be helpful is defensive denial that racism doesn't exist in our town or our institutions, including PAPD.

And what must not be tolerated is to blame those that have suffered bias.

Posted by Barron Park Denizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2022 at 12:00 pm

Barron Park Denizen is a registered user.

It would be useful to have a year's worth of statistics, and a representative set of cases, evaluated by the outside police department auditor. This would offer an outside perspective on whether the various stops and searches were appropriate and properly handled. Then let the numbers fall where they may.

Posted by Aletheia
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 4, 2022 at 12:05 pm

Aletheia is a registered user.

Unequal outcomes do not necessarily mean unequal treatment. There are number of reasons blacks could be over-represented in arrests most significantly having to do with economic situations, education, family situation, and on and on.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2022 at 1:04 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

As a Hispanic woman (and an immigrant), I disagree with this attempt to selectively use some data to verify a narrative. If a certain group (including Hispanics) break ANY laws (including traffic laws) at a higher rate, then they will be pulled over at a higher rate. If there is a greater reporting of crimes with suspects meeting a particular demographic, then the arrest rate will be closer to the reported rates rather than the demographic makeup of society in general.

Let's be clear: Palo Alto has an established set of population demographics. Moreover, the demographics of the reported criminal activity in this city is not the same as the population demographics. Consequently, the demographic arrest rates would look more like the demographics of reported crimes instead of the demographics of our city's population.

These types of things should be obvious. Yet, you rarely see them covered appropriately when it comes to the narrative set up by activists. For them, the issue is solely about racial prejudice. Issues like the association between rates of reported crimes and demographics, the compliance during apprehension, and, in this case, issues pertaining to driving or even car ownership (i.e., up-to-date registration) go a long way to explain many things.

The other explanation is one of widespread "conspiracy" about racism. It's the notion that the police in this country is largely affected by racial prejudice. Yet, the irony is that there are statistics that show the same issues with majority-white police forces exist in majority-black and majority-Hispanic forces.

As for Palo Alto: The police here are amazing. As with ANY organization, there can be some issues. However, those are usually rare outliers. The police in this city are exemplary. They do well in a job that often has difficult (and life-threatening) circumstances.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2022 at 1:18 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Does this mean that those of us who are not black are likely to be stopped for no reason and then handcuffed just so that they can get their quotas?

Posted by Nancy the real Nancy
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2022 at 1:21 pm

Nancy the real Nancy is a registered user.

What a farce!

PAPD you are welcome to pull over my white family multiple times a month to help "even out the numbers". We drive a Prius, Tesla and a Honda. All of my cars will have insurance and registration cards in them. I'll tell the family to carry their drivers license and be ready to be stopped.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Studying and documenting a problem is Step 1 to understanding it and identifying solutions. I greatly appreciate that Chief Binder has taken this step and that he has openly shared this information, including bad news he uncovered. That's a hard thing for a public employee to do.

Now he can work the problem with his team, and he has baseline behavior measured, so his performance in this area can be measured going forward. This is refreshing. Thank you Chief Binder, and welcome to Palo Alto. I'm glad you are here. Thank you, PAPD, for all you do. I have had enough positive contact with the police department to know that most of our officers are talented and committed public servants. You do a very difficult job for our community. I am grateful for that and for your commitment to find ways to do an even better job taking care of our diverse community.

Thanks, Gennady Sheyner, for this story. I look forward to follow up stories on this subject.

Posted by John
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2022 at 2:55 pm

John is a registered user.

Predicable article from Gennady, who has neglected a far more glaring bias on the part of the Palo Alto police. They disproportionately stop, question, search and arrest males! At least 90% of their arrests are males, showing a CLEAR bias and rampant SEXISM in their targeting! I demand they immediately begin detentions of females at a 50/50 ratio because OBVIOUSLY any deviation from population % means bias, right?

Really, with crime up double digits nationwide and DOJ/FBI stats telling us who committed 60% of the homicides last year, so we really have to tolerate this journalistic nonsense?

Posted by GTSpencer
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2022 at 4:54 pm

GTSpencer is a registered user.

PAPD you are welcome to pull over my white family multiple times a month to help "even out the numbers". We drive a Prius, Tesla and a Honda. All of my cars will have insurance and registration cards in them. I'll tell the family to carry their drivers license and be ready to be stopped.

Right On!! You wonder why cops don't want to do anything anymore. Why would you? The data can be skewed many different ways. Bottom line is obey the law.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2022 at 5:28 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Obeying the law is correct. Criminals refuse to do this, and too many people coddle criminals. Soft on crime raises the crime rate.

Everyone has biases. It's whether you can keep your bias from interfering with your job and your relationships. If you adhere to professionalism, it shouldn't be difficult.

Micromanaging the situation makes it worse. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. It's suffocating.

Sandra Brown is telling it like it is.

Posted by Easy8
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 4, 2022 at 10:10 pm

Easy8 is a registered user.

Gennady usually writes good articles, but this one is deeply flawed and biased, and he was appropriately called out and corrected by members in this forum such as Nayeli and many others.

Please, Gennady, maintain your usual high standards.

I think PAPD does a great job. I am amazed how often when a crime is very quickly called in, the culprit is apprehended.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2022 at 8:10 am

felix is a registered user.

I bet few of the commenters above actually read this article and graphs.

Posted by Eeyore
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2022 at 3:51 pm

Eeyore is a registered user.

@Felix, and so it is in comment sections throughout our fine internet.

Posted by John
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2022 at 8:51 am

John is a registered user.

Regarding the speculation about not reading the article, even fewer have attended the citizen’s academy or gone on a ride along to see the reality of policing at 0200 hours. There’s an over abundance of Monday morning Palo Alto statisticians who’ve never been punched in the face by the burglar they’re arresting while the helpful local population videotapes and screams “Racist pigs!!” True story.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2022 at 10:28 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@felix - I read this article and looked at the graphs. However, I also know how carefully-selected statistics and graph-building can be used to peddle a narrative that isn't entirely accurate.

Let's be exceedingly clear: The list of suspects, apprehensions and arrests should NOT resemble the racial-ethnic makeup of the residents of a community but, rather, the racial-ethnic makeup of the suspects for criminal activity in that community.

And, let's be even clearer, the demographic makeup of the suspects in reported crimes in Palo Alto does NOT reflect the demographic makeup of Palo Alto residents. Somehow, this fact is often not covered by many articles and graphs.

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2022 at 4:56 pm

Ugh is a registered user.

So biased! This is like the extreme left, who are just like the extreme right- they don't pay attention to facts, and only see what they want to see.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2022 at 7:55 am

felix is a registered user.

Hmmmm. Seems even those who say they read this article miss main points.

To review: This article is based on the 16 data points our police are required by the state to make for each stop in town on every person, whether worker, someone driving through, or resident.

The state intention of this data is to reveal and track any discriminatory profiling that exists by law enforcement in California (you can’t fix what you can’t see).

The State Dept of Justice will issue its own report on Palo Alto next April with more data. This article was a sort of preview.

As to who becomes suspect, who is searched, and who is arrested or worse, is not always a matter of criminal activity, but of profiling. That’s the point.

A sophisticated analysis, including
demographic comparisons over time, using multi-RIPA reports, will ultimately be most interesting and helpful.

RIPA data will continue to be collected by law enforcement in California and reported on by the DOJ. This valuable article is the first but not last we will read about it.

Posted by Helen Podesta
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2022 at 8:17 am

Helen Podesta is a registered user.

"As to who becomes suspect, who is searched, and who is arrested or worse, is not always a matter of criminal activity, but of profiling. That’s the point."

Aren't pre-emptive suspect identification verifications a preventative measure towards reducing crime?

It is no different than getting pulled over for a suspected DUI infraction.

If one passes the field sobriety test, there is no need for an arrest. On the other hand, some motorists will be found in violation of the .08% ceiling.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2022 at 11:13 am

Bystander is a registered user.

If most crimes were committed by middle aged blue eyed blonds, then I feel sure that those would be the types of people profiled as criminals.

Likewise, if most crimes were committed by green skinned men from mars, then they would be profiled.

Posted by Easy8
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 7, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Easy8 is a registered user.

New York City recently elected Eric Adams for mayor, a black former police captain whose sole campaign was based on reducing crime. Among other things, he advocates "stop and frisk" (see link below).

My understanding is that the wealthy whites in Manhattan voted for a liberal candidate, but the Black and Hispanic voters in the poorer districts supported Adams and put him over the top, because they were concerned about all the crime in their neighborhoods.

Web Link

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2022 at 10:11 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ felix: It seems that someone who reads the comments seems to miss the point of those comments.

The demographics of apprehension is NOT supposed to reflect the demographics of the residents of this city. Rather, this is supposed to represent the demographics of suspects, perpetrators or those who might be guilty of breaking the law.

This includes violating the law with motor vehicles (e.g., expired registration, broken tail lights, speeding, not using turn signals, etc.).

Again: The descriptions of suspects in most reported crimes in this city do NOT reflect the demographic makeup of the majority of Palo Alto residents.

Go and look up the demographics of criminal activity in Palo Alto. Next, look up the demographic breakdown of the residents of Palo Alto. Do you see a difference?

Would you concede that police might primarily pull over individuals primarily because they were suspected of violating the law (including traffic laws or vehicle registration laws)?

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2022 at 10:20 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2022 at 8:17 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Let's be realistic. The police deal with the criminal element, and anyone can get profiled. We're all potential suspects.

Banks profile us. By income, credit report and score, etc.

Men profile women. By our physical appearance, and any man who says he doesn't is lying.

Women profile men. By income and potential husband and father material.

Employers profile on job interviews. If you're not dressed professionally and you don't speak proper grammar, good luck.

Insurance companies profile. By zip code, prior claims, etc.

The list goes on. We're all human, and judgments happen. Whether they're right or wrong, they're not pulled out of thin blue air.

Certain races commit a higher percentage of crimes (per capita) and if that leads to profiling, we don't live in a perfect world.

Obey the law and minimize your chances of interacting with the police.

Posted by super chicana
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2022 at 10:38 am

super chicana is a registered user.

Policing is racist and crime is where you look for it. Let’s assume many of you who have made racist comments - that blacks do commit more crimes (false premise - even though many of your rich white kids have far more drugs than black kids could afford) it is petty street crime. Small time thefts, burglary, etc. [Portion removed.] Let me ask you a question, be 100 honest - if you can. Cheat on your taxes? Not report all cash transactions in your business? Lie for insurance money? Not get that required permit or licenses you were suppose to pay for? Cheat a worker? Keep a second set of books? What about rich white corporatists? Who make decisions in board rooms that cause great harm to our communities and even death to consumers? What about Enron? Causing millions of dollars of loss to consumers with price gouging. How about this current artificial inflation, record profit and windfalls? Where is your moral compass and outrage now? You complain about $50 of theft to your belongings but fail to see 1000s of $ stolen from you in other ways. I teach my kids: fear the corporatist in the suit. Not the man in a hoodie. You are so racist in your opinions of black peoples you do not see the real criminals in the room. [Portion removed.]

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