An independent inquiry into an on-campus police stop in January, when a gun was drawn on a Black motorist, found that the officers acted reasonably and did not show signs of “bias based policing.” The report, which noted its own “severely restricted” access to evidence, did, however, identify concerns with the deputies’ “critical thinking, judgment, and communication” during the interaction.
The report investigated a Jan. 28 incident when a Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) officer unholstered his gun and pointed it at a car, driven by a Black individual, that had been stopped due to an outstanding DUI arrest warrant for the owner of the car.
SUDPS received backlash on social media due to the handling of this incident. Jessica Stovall, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Education, was an eyewitness to the incident and described seeing a “white police officer draw a gun on a young Black man” in a Tweet that garnered over three million views.
Brian Cabral, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the Program for Race, Inequality, and Language in Education and friend of Stovall’s, wrote in a statement to The Daily that as a trained researcher and scholar, he felt “disappointed and unsurprised” by the findings of the report.
“There are biases in everything we do,” Cabral said. “It is disingenuous to claim that ‘No bias-based policing was found.’ How do they define biased-based policing or non-biased-based policing? How does one in law enforcement who is ‘following protocols’ become absolved from ‘bias-based policing?’”
Stovall wrote to The Daily that she agreed with “everything [Cabral] wrote.”
The University contracted the consulting firm The Riseling Group to perform the review. The Group was founded by Sue Riseling, a former police chief at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the report was authored by Lori Berquam, a university administrator at Mesa Community College and Scott VanScoy, a former police captain at California State University, Northridge.
According to a statement written to The Daily by Riseling, The Riseling Group’s definition of “bias based policing” was derived from the SUDPS Department’s policy definition, which states that all employees “are prohibited from taking use of forcebased on actual or perceived personal characteristics… including but not limited to … race, color, [or] ethnicity…”
Patrick Dunkley, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access and Community, said in the Stanford Report that the administration “regret that this incident escalated in the way that it did” and acknowledged that there may be “potential negative impact” on community members.
People of color are disproportionately targeted by police on Stanford’s campus, a 2021 annual progress report by the Community Board on Public Safety found. According to the report, Black vehicle operators were stopped at twice the rate of their representation in the community.
Dunkley is a Co-Chair of the Community Board on Public Safety.
According to the disclaimer section of the review, The Riseling Group’s “access to the evidence and files was severely restricted, making the completion of the report a challenge.”
In the course of The Riseling Group’s investigation, they requested and were provided access to body-cam footage, police car camera footage, radio communications, the site of the stop and police reports. The Group also interviewed two of the four deputies involved in the incident and heard “one half of the cell phone conversation” with some of the deputies.
Two deputies, however, chose not to be interviewed. Witnesses and the detained person also did not respond to The Riseling Group’s requests for an interview. The Group also requested HR documentation, including performance evaluations and accountability, but were unable to obtain these documents due to “confidentiality exemptions.”
When asked to clarify by The Daily, Riseling did not further explain how “confidentiality exemptions” are defined and said that all document request statuses were listed in the report.
Four DPS officers, a DPS supervisor and an unknown number of Palo Alto police officers had responded to the incident and at least six squad cars were present on the scene. Officers instructed the driver to exit the vehicle and, when he didn’t comply, a deputy pointed his gun at the car. A second deputy unholstered his gun, but did not point it at the car.
The driver was issued a traffic citation for possession of marijuana and a missing front license plate before he was released.
Through their review of the available information, the report states it found no signs of bias based policing. The race of the individual was not known as the first deputy approached the car due to tinted windows, nor was it mentioned during the phone call conversation between deputies, according to the report.
“While implicit bias is real and does occur, in this particular circumstance none of the materials reviewed would indicate its presence in this stop,” the report stated.
Riseling wrote that the Group used the California Police Officer Standards and Training to define that there was specifically no “explicit” bias in the situation. The Standards and Training states that “biases exist in all human beings… The difference between implicit and explicit bias is the level of awareness.”
The report did, however, note that there was a “low threat/risk level” of the incident being responded to and that the vehicle pullover should have been moved out of “the high vehicular and pedestrian area” to “better ensure the safety of not only the deputies but the community.”
The report specifically noted a “failure to search or conducting a poor search” during the pat-down search of the motorist and later removal of a knife from the motorist’s person, “inadequate communication” due to cell phone communication between deputies rather than use of police radio and “poor positioning” of the pullover which endangered “pedestrians, bicyclists and skateboarders” who entered the potential line of fire when the gun was being drawn.
Cabral said that despite what was concluded in the report, the “officer’s conclusion to code this encounter as ‘high-risk,’ which facilitated the department’s ‘high-risk’ protocols” was biased in itself, as well as the “escalation that ensued and propelled law enforcement to withdraw their guns and point them towards the vehicle.”
“And these biases are deeply racialized,” Cabral said. “Policing in and of itself is bias-based. There was ‘bias-based policing’ deployed in the January 28th police encounter.”
The Riseling Group recommended that the Department of Public Safety hold trainings “in effective communications, strategic planning, employing de-escalation strategies, emergency vehicle operations, and tactics and procedures associated with vehicle pullovers.”
The Daily reached out to the University for comment on The Riseling Group’s recommendations. University spokesperson Luisa Rapport directed The Daily to the public Stanford Report post.
“Everyone at Stanford should feel safe, valued, and respected, and this report highlights areas where additional training will help ensure that DPS actions are consistent with that goal,” SUDPS director Laura Wilson said in the Stanford Report.
Dunkley said he was “encouraged” by the “level of cooperation” between the SUDPS and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department” in reviewing the incident.
“The best way to prevent a recurrence of incidents like this is to learn from them,” Dunkley said. “I am confident the additional training DPS will conduct will move our campus in a positive direction. I also hope that the level of transparency demonstrated by the University will help to establish a heightened level [of] trust for our community.”
Cabral said that he felt skeptical of the effectiveness of the trainings.
“It is providing more band-aids to the harms of policing,” Cabral said. “[The consultants’] training and expertise are rooted in creating more effective policing systems. That is not what we need on Stanford’s campus. We need bold alternative commitments to our (student) safety.”
In response, Riseling said that the scope of the Group’s contract was “to review one specific incident.”
“Our goal was to determine as best as we could, what happened and what if anything could be improved upon,” Riseling wrote. “Although the objective of this engagement was not a holistic review, our recommendations, if implemented, would result in more effective policing and of the SUDPS operations overall.”
To Cabral, both the incident and “the [U]niversity’s response to it via the report” felt like a “reminder that there is much more work for us to do about actually reimagining public safety.”
“Many people reacted to the January incident with astonishment that such an encounter could take place on Stanford’s campus,” Cabral said. “This, in my opinion, is a valid but fraught reaction. Campus policing is connected to broader carceral systems of policing.”