Racist, anti-immigrant and far-right views among California law enforcement going unchecked, audit finds

State audit finds bias against people of color, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people.

<p>Law enforcement officers in California.  </p>

Law enforcement officers in California.

A state audit of five California law enforcement agencies has found unchecked officer bias against people of colour, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people.

The audit, which was conducted at the request of state legislators, also found that the law enforcement agencies reviewed lack the capacity to guard against their officers developing these views, investigate them, or discipline bigoted officers in a systematic way.

National investigations in recent years have established links between law enforcement officers and white supremacist organizations. A number of police officers participated in the January 6 Capitol riot, while former law enforcement officials have sounded alarms about white supremacist infiltration.

The audit suggests a similar state of affairs in California, where major police departments in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland have long been accused of racism and favoritism towards far right actors.

The auditors reviewed for bias in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the San Bernardino, San Jose, and Stockton Police Departments by reviewing a number of internal investigations into alleged officer misconduct and officer social media posts.

While the auditors found that while only a small number of officers had publicly expressed far right views or been investigated for racist, sexist, or homophobic conduct, the numbers are large enough to conclude that the law enforcement agencies must work to excise bias among their officers.

Incidents of harassment reported in the audit included two San Bernardino police officers using excessive force against a Latina woman and correctional officers making racist remarks about an incarcerated Black person enjoying watermelon and chicken.

While the audit did not find that any law enforcement members are members of any white supremacist groups, auditors did find social media posts from six officers expressing support for such groups. In one, an officer defended the Proud Boys by saying that anyone who doesn’t support the organizations is “in reality just against masculinity.”

Perhaps most worryingly, the audit found that none of the agencies they reviewed have any systems in place to identify officer biases and their impact in their work. The audit found that each agency is disproportionately white, each could improve its bias training, and each could work to strengthen its ties to local community members.

The audit found that investigations into biases, when they are reported, are lacking.

“Local departments’ investigations of biased conduct is that they relied heavily on the officers’ denials that bias influenced their actions, without considering whether an officer’s conduct created the reasonable appearance of bias,” the auditors wrote. “This approach is problematic both because officers are unlikely to admit that bias affected their actions and because it fails to consider the likely perspective of the community.”

The auditors made a series of recommendations to the state legislature for ways to improve the situation, including creating a definition of biased conduct that law enforcement agencies must adhere to when investigation bias complaints and establishing a required frequency with which the Department of Justice should review agencies’ efforts to combat bias.

As the audit notes, a failure to combat bias in law enforcement agencies threatens the authority they have to function.

“The public has entrusted law enforcement departments and their officers with significant, unique authority, including the right to detain, arrest, and use force against individuals within the community,” the auditors wrote. “Officers should exercise that authority with fairness, impartiality, and professionalism.”

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