Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office data requested by Los Altos Hills Vice Mayor Kavita Tankha and sent to City Manager Carl Cahill for council dissemination last week indicate a disproportionate number of traffic citations given to Hispanics in the past year.
Deputies issued 142 traffic citations to individuals classified as Hispanic between June 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, according to the data. During the same period, they issued 368 traffic citations to whites, 200 to people identified as “other Asian” and 21 to Blacks. Of the 142 Hispanics cited, five reside in town.
Five-year estimates from the 2018 American Community Survey, the latest U.S. Census data available, report that 4.2% of Los Altos Hills’ population is Hispanic; 64.7% is white, 31.1% is Asian and 0.8% is Black or African American.
Capt. Rich Urena runs the Sheriff’s Office West Valley Division, which serves the Hills. In an interview with the Town Crier last week, Urena said the number of traffic citations issued to Hispanics “stuck out” to him when he reviewed the data, but that he did not know why it was so high.
“We know (137) of them don’t live in town,” he said. “So the question is, ‘Well, what were they doing in town,’ right?”
Urena agreed with the suggestion that those cited might have been working in town and added another possibility that they might have simply passed through during a targeted enforcement meant to keep drivers from using Hills streets as shortcuts around traffic.
“We’re monitoring, and we pull them over because they’re doing something they shouldn’t and (they) get a citation,” he said.
Focused on training
City council members adopted the town’s fiscal year 2020-2021 operating budget at their June 18 meeting. It includes $19.45 million in expenditures with $1.96 million allocated for public safety, a 5.9% increase over the prior year due to the Sheriff’s Office’s contract agreement.
Acknowledging the current global movement toward the re-evaluation of police services and operations, Urena delivered a short presentation during the budget discussion about his division’s work in town and how the town’s money – $73,126 of it – funds deputy training.
Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office patrol deputies spend between 60 and 70 hours a year training in addition to the 24 hours required of them by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training every two years, Urena said.
“In the last four years, we have received no formal complaints – and I say four years because I started here in 2016 – we’ve received no formal complaints on deputies using any type of excessive force or any type of service that was inappropriate,” Urena told the council. “This is largely due to the training that’s provided to deputies.”
Tankha asked about plans to require more instruction directed at decreasing bias and improving de-escalation methods, and Urena said his agency is looking into that.
“I do see that you have training, but obviously it is not enough, and recent events in this country do reflect that,” Tankha said, later suggesting a forthcoming town survey might include a question for residents about law enforcement satisfaction.
At the July 16 council meeting, Tankha mentioned that Hills residents have approached her in the context of defunding law enforcement in town. She then requested the Sheriff’s Office submit the data about stoppings based on race.
California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, enacted by Assembly Bill 953, requires law enforcement agencies to annually report to the attorney general information pertaining to all conducted stops from the previous calendar year, including the date, time and location of the encounter as well as the perceived race, gender and approximate age of the subject. The number of people each law enforcement agency employs determines when it must start submitting the data, and the first submission from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is due April 1, 2022.
“The Town is doing its part by monitoring the Sheriff’s compliance efforts with the AB953 reporting requirements to the Attorney General. … As City Manager, I will keep the City Council informed as to the Sheriff’s progress with AB953 Compliance throughout the year,” Cahill wrote Thursday in an email to the Town Crier.
While Urena could not yet provide an update on his agency’s pursuit of additional bias training last week, he mentioned it is actively bolstering crisis intervention training and cited classes in Morgan Hill last week and this week.
“We do pride ourselves on providing the town with the best service possible,” Urena said, “so if there are concerns related to how we do our job, I encourage people to email me – my email is on the town website – and to engage in conversation so we can explain why we do the things we do and make sure that we’re providing that high level of service that residents expect.”