By Carlos Avalos
While the Sentinel covers San Bernardino County, I have prevailed upon the editors to permit me to expound on a topic that arises out of events in Norco, which is just across the Riverside County line, as the issues involved are of topical concern.
On June 4, 2020, a Norco resident emailed the city council and mayor about concerns with regard to public service accountability, recent and past police brutality, as well as injustices at the hands of police. The Norco resident also urged the release of an action plan that has been formed with local black leaders; the resident emphasized that all people should be treated equally in Norco under the law regardless of skin color. The letter provided a link to the Police Use of Force Project (http://useofforceproject.org/#project), which by its own description “is a numbers-driven examination of the violent tactics that police departments in America’s 100 largest cities are currently using.” The email importuned the mayor and city council of Norco to have the Norco city government officially acknowledge and stand in solidarity with and support the Black Lives Matter movement. It asked that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which provides contract law enforcement services to Norco, to adopt eight reforms pertaining to when and how force is used. The resident went on to tell the mayor and council that these eight practices, when used in police departments across the country, show a significant drop in killings, in one case a statistical drop of 72 percent (https://8cantwait.org/). These included the banning of chokeholds and strangleholds, the use of de-escalation, requiring warning before shooting, and empowering officers to intervene and stop excessive force by their colleagues, and a comprehensive reporting requisite each time an officer uses forces or threatens to do so.
On June 5, Councilman Ted Hoffman responded.
Noting he “grew up in a Christian home,” had been given a “Christian school” education and was instilled with the value of “tolerance and equal treatment of everyone,” he related that he had “served in the US Army during the Vietnam War with men and women of all races, religious beliefs [and] ethnic backgrounds.” He further related that he was a retired law enforcement officer, “having served 26 years as a full-time deputy sheriff and 3 years a reserve deputy sheriff with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, I can attest that the misuse of force or the improper use of force is not tolerated in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.” Furthermore, he claimed, “sheriff’s department personnel receive training and instruction in race relationship and tolerance. I can attest, racial bias is not tolerated and does not exist in the Riverside Sheriff’s Department and deputies that exhibit bias or intolerance are ‘weeded out’ of the ranks.”
Citing Wall Street reporter Jason Riley, Hoffman said “Data shows that 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks…” that the white crime rate is “much lower than the black rate [and] “Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do.” Hoffman asserted, “Blacks committed 52 percent of homicides between 1980 and 2008, despite composing just 13 percent of the population. Across the same timeframe, whites committed 45 percent of homicides while composing 77% of the population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.” FBI statistics demonstrated that in 2013, “black criminals carrying out 38 per cent of murders, compared to 31.1 per cent for whites,” he said. Citing author Heather McDonald, Hoffman propounded that “Blacks are 10 percent of the population in Los Angeles, but commit 42 percent of its robberies and 34 percent of its felonies. Whites make up 29 percent of the city’s population, and commit 5 percent of its robberies and 13 percent of its felonies. In New York City, blacks committed 75 percent of all shootings, 70 percent of all robberies, and 66 percent of all violent crime, despite only composing 23 percent of the population.”
In his screed, Hoffman then directly quoted political scientist James Q. Wilson and the psychologist Richard Herrnstein that “The overrepresentation of blacks among arrested persons persists throughout the criminal justice system. Though prosecutors and judges may well make discriminatory judgments, such decisions do not account for more than a small fraction of the overrepresentation of blacks in prison.”
According to Councilman Hoffman, “This data disproves the notion that racism is what drives higher rates of arrests among the blacks than among whites or broader America.”
Councilman Hoffman said he could not support the call for reform of the policing methodology in his community, “because to me ‘All Lives Matter.’”
That I disagree with Mr. Hoffman is an understatement.
Mr. Hoffman said he wanted to make clear in his response email to his constituent that these were strictly his views, and not the city’s. One of the biggest complaints the Sentinel got from Norco residents was that even though he stated that the views he was expressing were his personal views, he did so as a member of the city council and through his official city council email.
Instead of speaking to his constituent about concerns relating to criminal justice reform, police brutality, and Norco’s plan to combat such brutality, he essentially denied that such brutality exists, and further implied, basically, that there is not a problem with policing in America. He remained upbeat about the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s “use of force” procedures and minimalized any complaints relating to it, asserting the department’s internal review of the deputies’ actions were adequate.
A study was done in 2020 by the Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board in conjunction with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, which is intended to shepherd data collection and provide public reports with the ultimate objective to eliminate racial and identity profiling and improve and understand diversity in law enforcement through training, education, and outreach. It surveyed statistics relating to the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. “The most commonly reported reason for a stop across all racial/ethnic groups was traffic violations, followed by reasonable suspicion,” the report states. “A higher percentage of African American individuals were stopped for reasonable suspicion than any other racial identity group. Overall 9.9 percent of stopped individuals were subject to a person or property search. African Americans were 18.7 percent more likely to get searched than the rest of the ethnic breakdown categories.”
The study stated that “search yield rate analyses showed that when officers searched individuals, contraband or evidence was generally found on Caucasian individuals at higher rates than individuals from all other groups.”
If contraband is found on Caucasian individuals at higher rates, is this reflected in the treatment of them by police officers compared to minorities? Is this reflected in the number of minorities that are imprisoned compared to whites?
In this report the second most common reported reason for stopping behind traffic violations was “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” African-Americans were at the top of that list for reasonable suspicions across all of the departments tested. In this study, and many like it, you can easily see that African-Americans and minorities are at the top of every list when it comes to negative/different treatment by police as compared to other ethnicities.
Does it show that there is a systematic problem? Maybe not. Is their systemic/institutionalized racial bias in policing? The question then arises: If there is not racial bias in policing, a problem with the overall criminal justice system, and police brutality, why are people from every walk of life from countries all over the world protesting over a man who was killed in Minneapolis?
This study found that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has a clearly written stand-alone policy that was last revised October 7, 2019. The policy is not available online. It defines bias-based policing and includes a component on the limited circumstances in which characteristics of individuals may be considered. There is no component on encounters with the community. The policy includes a component on officer training and encourages members to familiarize themselves with racial and cultural differences if they have not yet received training. The policy does not include a component on data analysis; it does delineate; however, what data is collected for the Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board. The policy requires members to be responsible for reporting any biased-based policing they suspect or have knowledge of and encourages members to intervene whenever they see bias-based actions. The policy does not address supervisory review.
This aligns with what the Desert Sun reported on June 6, 2020. According to the Desert Sun, “the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to condemn the actions of Minneapolis police officers who killed George Floyd, but did not vote on a measure that called for the county sheriff’s department to undertake a review of its policies and report back to the board.” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Blanco stated that this action “was politically motivated.” This is interesting because that is exactly what Ted Hoffman told his worried constituent, that the Black Lives Matter Movement was political and that there was really no justification for it. This study is in direct contradiction with Hoffman’s notion that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has no need for improvement. In fact, this study which is recent, shows that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department might have a few major issues in their department, with the biggest one being transparency.
A Norco resident countered Councilman Hoffman’s assertions, stating, “Wayne State University Professor Bradley Smith, who analyzed data on officer-caused homicides, finding minority representation in larger local departments had no significant influence on police-related killings. A similar study published in Criminal and Justice Behavior, however, examined shootings over a 15-year period in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, finding non-Hispanic white officers were more likely to be involved in shootings than Hispanic and black officers.” This is relevant to the notion that Hoffman stated in is email about the diverse ethnic makeup of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Racial diversity is a good thing in law enforcement. This does not mean it will positively influence the killing, treatment, or mistreatment of people. Hoffman wrongly correlates a relationship between the two.
Councilman Hoffman asserted, “If you were to look at the racial makeup of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department you will find it has a very diverse ethnic makeup, that reflects the county.” I would remind Councilman Hoffman that racial diversity in policing is one thing and racial diversity in upper management and the upper echelon of police unions is totally another. Both the former and latter are severely lacking.
Mr. Hoffman said that in his time as a narcotics officer he arrested several black men and women who sold drugs. Reality, statistics and common-sense show people who sell drugs are not just African-Americans.
With regard to Mr. Hoffman’s highlighting of black on black crime statistics from a 2016 report, in particular, that data shows that 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks. The problem is the issue currently under discussion is criminal justice reform and police brutality, not black on black crime. As to Mr. Hoffman’s assertion that blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do, it must have slipped Hoffman’s mind that we are not talking about the rate at which certain ethnic groups commit crimes. Hoffman’s spewing of facts and figures relating to African-Americans and crime appears to me to be demeaning rather than informative. Citing FBI statistics that show a higher percentage of the black population than the white population is arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, Mr. Hoffman said, “After reading these statistics, I hope you can understand that there needs to be change, but the change in attitude needs to be self-reflecting. The family unit is a powerful source of unity to foster respect for each other, no matter what race or religion you are. If you want to target the issue, then focus your energy on the actual source, not what a biased media tells you.” This implies that Ted Hoffman believes that African-Americans problems might be better if blacks had a powerful family unit.
The Norco residents told the Sentinel that a simple “No” response by Hoffman concerning the email would have sufficed instead of a racially charged email. Instead, he responded with a barrage of racial assumptions. He does not say one positive thing about African Americans, shows his lack of empathy, and quotes Heather Mac Donald, an American Conservative Scholar who has published papers with the title Myth of Systemic Police Racism.
It should be noted that many Norco residents were threatened and barraged with hate filled messages from anti-Black Lives Matter Norco residents. This is why they have stayed anonymous. One brave soul, Val Stevens of Norco, told the Sentinel, “The other day Norco resident Anita Willis’s son-in-law was in town. While working on his truck, a blue sedan drove by shouting racial slurs to him. Norco needs help, and needs it big. This has been going on too long for it to be 2020 and any person gets yelled at with racial epithets.”