Discovering some strange people and places in the swampy corners of LBPD data

I’m not a mathematician and I’m not a cop and it’s hard to say which occupation’s skills I’m most lacking.

I do, however, know my way around town pretty well, and I can usually make a decent stab, give or take a decade, at guessing a person’s age, and I can take a fairly good guess at a person’s ethnicity—all things that are required of cops these days.

But I will mock-humbly admit that I’m not as much of a genius as the Post’s Dennis Dean and Jeremiah Dobruck and others who have crunched and otherwise disentangled the brutally raw and nearly undecipherable numbers that were released by the Long Beach Department a few days ago as required by California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA. The Post has already reported on some of the more sobering aspects of the numbers that resulted from LBPD’s data.

Back when it passed in 2015, RIPA wasn’t a big hit among police officers or their unions. Some groused that it put them in an awkward position, relying on the officers to guess a person’s race or ethnicity. Others—including Long Beach’s police union president at the time—argued that racial profiling doesn’t exist and that filling out all this paperwork—many probably described the paperwork in more sailorly language than I feel comfortable using—is a burden on officers in the field.

It’s not paperwork in the strictest sense. The officers use an iPhone app to enter the information on people they stop, and last year, they stopped 40,524 people.

Of those people, well, and here is where the math—or the officers grappling with their iPhones—gets weird: For instance, 728 people stopped last year were a hybrid of every ethnicity known to police. That was how many people the LBPD described as White, Black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern/South Asian (and why are those two paired?), Native American and Pacific Islander. Seven hundred and twenty-eight of the people stopped—or nearly 2%—were basically described as Alloftheaboevians in terms of ethnicity.

Somewhere between disgruntled police work and an admirable “I don’t see colors” is the truth for the relatively large number of pan-ethnicity found in the department’s reports.

How are cops at guessing age? It’s difficult to say because it’s a matter of each officer’s personal perception, though they could make a better educated guess by checking the individual’s driver’s license or ID. How many people over 100 years of age would you guess were stopped by police last year? If you guessed 57, you’re looking over my shoulder, because that’s suspiciously correct.

One shady character, the police noted, was 120 years old, and if you saw a 120-year-old man driving down Seventh Street, no doubt with his left-turn blinker on for the last 3 miles, you’d pull him over too. That one 120-year-old person, the Dean of Long Beach People Who Need Pulling Over, was the oldest reported potential scofflaw, the other 56 ranged in age, the officers reckoned, between 100 and 105. Throw those guys in juvie. It’ll do ‘em good.

Finally, one of the hot spots for nabbing potential criminals is the high-crime area of 10th Street and Pacific Coast Highway, an intersection so lawless that nobody with an ounce of decency will venture into it. I have always thought that 10th street never ran into PCH, but, not surprisingly, I’ve been wrong, always. An astute reader points out that there’s a bowling alley-size strip of 10th Street east of Recreation Park Golf Course, that connects Santiago with PCH, barricaded to traffic at the east end of 10th, so, technically, it’s not an intersection, but there is a signpost with Pacific Coast Highway and 10th Street on the corner.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like a place to be doing anything suspicious enough to be stopped by the police 270 times, as officers have reported. But, who knows? I think I’ve already established the fact that I’m not a cop. And in an earlier version of this story, I made light of the non-fact, as it turns out, that 10th never reaches PCH. So, that’s my bad. And it makes me wonder if there really are 728 people of all ethnicities who were stopped by cops last year.

In broad terms, police said their data is accurate—or at least “accurate in terms of what’s uploaded into the phone,” Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish told the Long Beach Post Monday night. “Obviously there’s margins for error whenever you’re inputting any information.”

In specific terms, we’re waiting for an answer. A spokesperson for the department didn’t get back to me right away about what 10th and PCH means or whether confusing data like that is a simple slip-up by an officer or something else.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the fact that a bit of 10th Street does reach Pacific Coast Highway.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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