What’s next after California’s scathing police audit?

By Soumya Karlamangla and Luke Vander Ploeg

By Soumya Karlamangla and Luke Vander Ploeg

New York Times

The findings of a blistering state audit of law enforcement agencies are reverberating across the state and raising questions about next steps for lawmakers and police officials in California.

The report found bias among officers at five agencies and determined the departments had not done enough to prevent it, raising concerns that the state has not provided enough oversight.

The auditor found multiple examples of troubling behavior that included social media posts and conversations between officers that mocked transgender people, women, Latinos, Black people and immigrants.

“We are getting a disturbing picture of something we’ve been seeing routinely across the country,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The findings, he said, illustrate that discrimination can, and often does, come from more than “just the stereotypical Southern Klan sheriff.”

The audit covered the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; the San Bernardino, San Jose and Stockton police departments; and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The auditors made several recommendations, including that the state Legislature create an official definition of biased conduct and that police departments diversify hiring practices and screen applicants’ social media accounts for bias.

Ash Kalra, a Democratic assemblyman from San Jose, has a bill in the state Senate that would require police departments to check job candidates for ties to hate groups and would make it easier to fire anyone with such connections. Kalra said he expected the recent audit, which he called for with a group of 16 other legislators, to increase support for his proposal.

“It makes it harder to push back when the evidence is so clear it’s a problem,” he told the New York Times.

In reviewing 450 officers’ public social media accounts, state auditors found that 17 had promoted biased content on their public social media accounts, including six officers who supported far-right hate groups such as the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, the report said.

Michael Tilden, acting state auditor, said the numbers might seem small, but they point to a larger structural problem: Departments do not have sufficient policies to prevent “hiring employees that are bringing those biases to the job or that have those problematic affiliations,” he said.

Susan Corke, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, also pointed out that since hate groups such as the Proud Boys are increasingly using encrypted platforms to express their views, the publicly available posts the auditors found are most likely “a really small slice of what’s happening.”

The audited law enforcement agencies were allowed to include a response in the report. The San Bernardino Police Department declined to comment on the findings, while the other departments largely agreed with the recommendations. But other members of law enforcement rejected the findings.

“This so-called audit is a compilation of cherry-picked allegations that is light on facts and chock-full of opinion, supposition and obfuscation,” Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said in a statement to the Times. He added that the auditors had not spoken to any rank-and-file police officers as part of their report.

“If they had, there may have been greater clarity and less conjecture in the final document,” Saggau said.

Tilden said that talking to individual officers as a part of the audit could have compromised the report, as officers may have taken down their posts before auditors could find them.

Over the next five years, auditors will periodically check in with the five law enforcement agencies on their progress implementing their recommendations, an official part of the audit process and a large part of its value, Tilden said. “We have a mechanism for requiring departments to keep us apprised.”

©2022 The New York Times Co.

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