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Enhanced police data collection a good thing, Los Altos chief says

Andy Galea
Eric Davidove/Town Crier File Photo
Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea, pictured last summer, and his department have begun collecting enhanced data regarding stops.

The Los Altos Police Department began collecting enhanced data regarding police stops last month that will enable the department to be more transparent. The data is being collected in accordance with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA, which was passed into state law in 2016.

Data such as the reason for the stop, actions taken by the officer during the stop and results of the stop will now be gathered and passed on to the state’s Department of Justice to be released to the public. Last summer, in the wake of calls to increase police transparency, the department published some statistics on police stops dating back to 2017 that included a racial breakdown, but the data was missing information like the reason for stops.

Larger police departments were required to begin collecting RIPA data in 2018. A smaller department of Los Altos’ size didn’t have to start until 2022, but last year the city council asked for it to expedite the process and start in 2021.

The enhanced data collection will require slightly more work – up to five minutes for an officer to input the data after making a stop – but Police Chief Andy Galea believes it is necessary.

“In the end, I think it is a good thing,” Galea said. “People have a perception of law enforcement, and certainly now, most recently with the social justice issues. People are interested in data and statistics. ... It’s good that we be as transparent as possible.”

The police department has installed a RIPA application on all patrol vehicle computers, and provided handheld devices with the app to all officers who don’t have computers in their cars. All sworn personnel must collect the data, which applies when there is a “physical detention” such as a traffic stop or “any interaction with an individual that results in the search of a person,” according to Capt. Scott McCrossin.

Training officers

McCrossin, who along with Capt. Katie Krauss helped train officers a few weeks ago on how to use the app, added that there are 16 general data points to collect, but the number of points will expand based on criteria met. For instance, under “actions taken by the officer during the stop,” another question is, “Was the person searched?” If the answer is yes, then follow-up questions will populate, including: “What was the basis for the search?” “Was it a consent search?” “If the consent was given, was the search completed?”

Krauss said it took approximately an hour to train staff on how to input the data. They practiced making entries after both simple traffic stops and more complex searches or arrests. For straightforward traffic citations, officers took anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to enter data. For more complicated stops, it took two to five minutes.

The data will be collected per agency, and will not have any personally identifiable information such as name of the person searched or the officer who conducted the search. Other information like date of birth and license plate number also will not be entered. The Department of Justice will report each agency’s 2021 statistics as a whole in April 2022.

“We focused on the importance of not including any personally identifiable information in the app,” Krauss said. “This is supposed to be generic data that’s collected.”
Additionally, while officers are required to enter data by the end of their shifts, the department wants them to do so at the end of each stop, if it was not a major incident like an officer-involved shooting.

“We want the perceptions to be fresh in their minds, and if we wait until the end of their shift, they might be jumbled on what their perceptions were,” Krauss said. “We want this to be honest feedback that the officers are
giving.”

The enhanced data will allow the public a more detailed look at how the police are conducting themselves, which Galea, who has served as chief since 2016, noted is important.

“This is really just going along with what the community wants and expects of us,” he said. “What we’re doing shouldn’t be a mystery, and this is part of it.”

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