San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne suggests cameras to collect racial data, stop profiling

SAN DIEGO - San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne made a pitch Wednesday for the City Council to authorize the purchase of cameras that record the interaction of officers and the public in order to reduce incidents of racial profiling.

At a meeting of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, Lansdowne said the small cameras can be worn on uniforms and record both video and audio.

"The police officers are very committed to it," Lansdowne said. "They're excited about the cameras. They think that they serve a purpose both for the community and for the officers themselves."

He recommended the purchase of 100 of the devices, with a price tag of $165,000 to $200,000 to use in a test phase. Eventually, the SDPD will need around 900 of the cameras -- and managing the devices will cost about $2 million annually, he said.

"The ones we are currently looking at are made by Taser," Lansdowne told 10News. "Several departments have them, they have been very effective."

However, they also come with a high price tag.

"They are expensive because you have to store the information," he added.

Officers must use them and use them correctly, said one resident.     

"Those lapel cameras that you're talking about, they are only going to work if you have proper policy and procedure with them," said a resident. "Not to where you can just turn them on and off."

Many of the nearly 30 members of the public who spoke at the meeting outlined their experiences of being pulled over by officers and immediately questioned about their probation status, gang connections and tattoos.

"I always wanted to be a police officer, but now I'm just scared of them," one young man said as he talked about how he's been profiled by police officers as being a gang member since he was 13 years old.

"Police are supposed to be there to protect us," said another man. "But in my experience, they are there to harass me."

Some residents held signs claiming they had been racial profiled, saying they have been stopped by police merely because of the color of their skin.

Lei-Chala Wilson, president of the San Diego branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, referred to a recent squabble in New York over a controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy when she spoke.

"We don't have a 'stop-and-frisk' problem -- we have an 'are you on probation or parole' problem," Wilson said.

While top SDPD officials conceded that data shows Latinos and blacks are stopped more frequently than Asians and whites, they denied a systematic pattern of bias in vehicle stops or searches.

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, who asked for the item to be placed on the meeting agenda, said the discussion was the beginning "of open and honest dialogue." Cole called for regular town hall meetings in her district of Southeast San Diego -- which has a predominantly minority population.

"As you can see today, the comments and the stories, they're proof that there's a problem," Cole said. "There's a problem and we have to address it."

Lansdowne said SDPD officials would attend the town hall meetings and would work with residents and community organizations to build trust.

He said the cameras would resolve the inconsistent collection of racial data during the nearly 100,000 traffic stops that take place annually around the city. Filling out the information is "labor intensive," he said.

According to a recent report by, San Diego officers stopped jotting down the data until Lansdowne ordered a resumption in October. Most big city departments record racial information during traffic stops.

The website reported that data collection increased after the chief took action.

Lansdowne told KPBS last week that the system needs to be rebuilt "almost from scratch." Civil rights and neighborhood advocacy groups are helping to develop a new plan, he said.

Putting them to use and budgeting for the cameras will be revisited by the committee in April.

Cole issued the following statement late Wednesday afternoon:

"I appreciate the San Diego Police Department and the communities of color converging on City Hall today at the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee to discuss the current policies and practices regarding Community Policing and Racial Profiling data.

This was a meaningful and necessary dialogue. There was standing room only at today's meeting which indicates that there are issues that must be addressed for our communities to build trust with the police officers who are sworn to serve and protect us.

We are going to do more than just talk. We will walk the talk with real and immediate policy changes including putting an end to the 'Are you on probation or parole?' question that some police officers ask when making stops.

I am looking forward to Community Public Safety Days with the Police Department and the disenfranchised members of our communities that will be held at the Tubman-Chavez Center in the Fourth Council District. We will continue the meaningful work that has begun today."

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