Barking in the Key of G

The White, Black, and Brown of Juvenile InJustice

SEEING R.E.D.: The big news in the whole race-gender thing is not that the first woman has been nominated by one of the two major parties to run for president, or even that she’s likely to win. The real news is that the City of Santa Barbara has just hired its first female chief of police, snagging Lori Luhnow ​— ​by all reckoning a certified rock star ​— ​from the City of San Diego. To the extent Luhnow cracked any glass ceiling, she’s quick to downplay the glass shards in her hair. “I’ve been a female my whole life,” she pointed out to Santa Barbara Independent News Editor Tyler Hayden last week, subliminally clarifying ​— ​I’m guessing ​— ​that she’s not transgender.

Given the all but irresistible vortex of Santa Barbara’s matriarchal tradition, Luhnow’s appointment almost seems a “what took you so long” moment. Except for one very brief and bungled male asterisk, all Santa Barbara mayors since the 1970s have been of the XX chromosomal persuasion. We’ve had a woman in Congress, a woman UCSB chancellor, a woman public school superintendent, a woman state assemblymember and senator ​— ​same person ​— ​a woman county CEO, a woman city administrator, two women district attorneys, and two more at the helm at City College. It’s worth noting that the three most influential media moguls in Santa Barbara are all women ​— ​Marianne Partridge of The Independent, Wendy McCaw of the News-Press, and Sara Miller McCune of pretty much everything else.

Angry Poodle

In today’s context, Luhnow’s “historic” appointment might seem beside the point had a Santa Barbara jury not ordered the City of Santa Barbara to pay $3.2 million to two female officers in 2002 who charged that the department’s promotion process was rigged in favor of the good old boys. Even by today’s standards, that’s a lot. Back then, it was, well, historic. Right before that trial started, the department promoted its very first female officer ever to the rank of sergeant. The timing was hardly coincidental. That she also happened to be one of the two plaintiffs was both embarrassing and desperate. One might think in the intervening 14 years of pseudo-enlightened promotion policies, the picture might have changed. If so, only by a few microns. Until Luhnow’s appointment, only three women officers have been promoted to positions of leadership within the PD. And one of those ​— ​a sergeant ​— ​cofiled the sex-discrimination lawsuit.

The big discussion overwhelming the nation now, however, is police use of force and race. There are the stories of Freddie Gray, the black man who had his spine nearly severed by the careening violence of his final paddy-wagon joy ride, courtesy of Baltimore’s finest. Conversely, there are the five officers in Dallas shot and killed by a racist sniper intent on killing white cops. Black Lives Matter. So, too, do Blue Lives. The point isn’t which side can scream louder. It’s to hear what’s being said underneath all the shouting. And for that, one has to listen. In this regard, it appears Luhnow’s ears are not choked with waxy buildup; she’s actively tuning in. She talks of cops being “guardians,” not warriors. She also talks of training law enforcement to check any “Implicit Bias” at the door. In law enforcement circles, “Implicit Bias” has emerged as the new buzzword du jour, as “community policing” was 15 years ago. But behind the touchy-feely verbiage, there lurk some hard, cold, and cruel facts that demonstrate Santa Barbara’s wheels of justice are far from color-blind about who they happen to grind up.

Santa Barbara County’s Probation Department got on the “Implicit Bias” bandwagon a couple of years ago, hiring the W. Haywood Burns Institute to do a top-to-bottom assessment to determine who got tossed into juvenile detention, for what offenses, and why. The Burns report irrefutably demonstrates that “Racial and Ethnic Disparities” ​— ​known in bureaucratic lingo as RED ​— ​are alive and well in Santa Barbara. It also shows the problem is rooted throughout the whole criminal justice system, not just police departments. It does, however, start with them. Although black kids make up only 1.3 percent of Santa Barbara County’s youth population, it turns out they make up 4 percent of those arrested and 6 percent of those put in “secure facilities.” Latinos make up 62 percent of the youth population but 69 percent of the arrests and 76 percent of those incarcerated.

Not all kids arrested get put in “secure detention.” Some are lucky enough to be diverted. White kids, it turns out, are disproportionately more likely to be “diverted” than their black and Latino counterparts. Fifty-five percent of all kids in secure detention have been popped for technical administrative offenses like failure to appear as opposed to a criminal offense. But when you look at youth of color, the number is 83 percent.

Now let’s look at something dumb and simple ​— ​possession of pot. Nearly 52 percent of all white kids busted for pot possession are diverted into other programs, meaning they’re not locked up. By contrast, only 48 percent of Latino kids are ​— ​remember they make up 62 percent of the youth population ​— ​and only 16 percent of black kids are so fortunate.

Finally, let’s look at formal probation. Latino kids are put on formal probation at nearly twice the rate as whites; for black kids, it’s more than five times. Formal probation means you could be stopped, frisked, and searched at any time. And if you screw up, the consequences are serious. Looking at the length of time required to complete probation, the racial disparities are, again, inescapable. In 2014, the average white kid successfully completed probation in 602 days. The average Latino, however, was on the hook for 734 days, and the average black kid took 878.

The Big News is not that Santa Barbara has its first woman chief. Instead, it’s that the new chief talks seriously about dealing with “Implicit Bias.” The even bigger news is that she’ll be taking a cold, hard look at these cold, hard numbers.


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