How Police Internal Affairs Struggles to Address Racism and Bias : On Our Watch A 16-year-old Black kid walks into a gas station in Stockton, Calif. to buy gummy worms for his little sister. When the teen gets in an argument with the clerk over a damaged dollar bill, a white officer in plainclothes decides to intervene — with force. In the fourth episode of On Our Watch, we trace the ripple effects of this incident over the next 10 years in a department trying to address racism and bias. But can the chief's efforts at truth and reconciliation work when the accountability process seems to ignore the truth?
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Perceived Threat

Perceived Threat

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Nicole Xu for NPR
A teenager walks out of a store as a looming blue shape raises his hand behind him.
Nicole Xu for NPR

"The badge that I wear — that all of my officers wear — carries a burden with it," Stockton, Calif., Police Chief Eric Jones says. "And it does go back to slave patrols."

For the past five years, Jones has overseen a pilot truth and reconciliation effort, through which he's seeking to acknowledge the racist history of policing in order to change the culture of the department.

"If I have a racist officer and I find out, I'm going to fire the officer," the chief says. "What we're talking about are these biases that are harder to put your finger on."

Experts say — and records read by On Our Watch reporters show — that the internal affairs system is poorly equipped to hold officers accountable for racist policing unless it is overt and extreme.

Episode four of On Our Watch investigates the case of a plainclothes Stockton police officer who grabbed a Black 16-year-old, took him to the ground and punched him, knocking the teen's two front teeth onto a convenience store floor.

"He could've killed me," Joseph Green told the department at the time.

Though the Police Department's internal investigation found that Officer Robert Johnson III used excessive force, he successfully appealed a five-day suspension with arguments that he confronted the 16-year-old in a "high drug, high gang neighborhood" that included "a crime ridden HUD housing development."

A jury in a civil case found the officer had falsely arrested Green and used excessive force in 2020. The jury awarded Green $710,000. Johnson and the city denied any wrongdoing.

That civil outcome didn't affect Johnson's job. He's still on the force today, a recent recipient of an "officer of the year" award.

Learn more about On Our Watch at KQED.org. This podcast is produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a coalition of news organizations in California.