San Diego City Council to examine SDPD racial profiling study

Posted at 6:34 AM, Nov 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-30 22:29:05-05

SAN DIEGO - A study that sought to quantify racial profiling in traffic stops by San Diego police officers will be forwarded to the full City Council following a hearing Wednesday before the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

Several members of the public told the committee members that the analysis of traffic stops by San Diego police officers in 2014 and 2015 proves what they've been living through.

"The report is disturbing but certainly not surprising," said one of the speakers, Paul Watson.

The details, however, produced a mixed bag of results. Among other things, differences were found between the two years in stops that occurred north or south of Interstate 8 and whether drivers were searched, cited or arrested.

The analysis by San Diego State University, based on tens of thousands of traffic stop data cards filled out by officers, was limited to stops made for traffic violations, not for drivers who met suspect descriptions, code enforcement actions or other type of service.

"Racial profiling is real -- the data shows it, let's be serious and prioritize this issue like we prioritize others," said Norma Chavez Peterson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego. "We all agree that it is unacceptable for black and Latino drivers to be pulled over, searched and interviewed at higher rates than whites."

Among the findings:

  • Citywide, disparities between black and white drivers were evident in vehicle stop data from 2014, but not 2015 or the combined 2014-2015 dataset
  • No such disparities were found between whites and either Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander drivers in 2014 or 2015
  • Data from both years revealed that white drivers were more likely to be pulled over in neighborhoods south of Interstate 8 during daylight hours, when officers could see the person's race
  • Citywide and across 2014 and 2015, black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be searched following a traffic stop, but whites were more often found with contraband
  • Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander drivers were subject to field interviews at greater rates than white drivers
  • No meaningful difference existed in the rate at which drivers from each racial or ethnic group were arrested
  • Black drivers were less likely to receive a citation than white drivers stopped under similar circumstances
  • Matched Hispanic, white, and Asian/Pacific Islander drivers were cited at similar rates

The authors said records of traffic stops conducted in the two-year period were often incomplete, raising questions as to whether data generated by the SDPD's traffic stop card system are a reliable measure of how actual contacts between officers and the public were conducted.

They also said city residents who participated in focus groups and SDPD officers who completed an electronic survey and follow-up interviews recognized a tension between police and minority community members.

The SDSU report included several recommendations -- among them an acknowledgement of the existence of racial and ethnic disparities, enhancing training in the area of bias, replacing data cards with an improved record-keeping system and making community engagement a core value.

On a motion by Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, the committee unanimously voted to forward the report to the full City Council in February.

Among other things, Cole asked the San Diego Police Department to commit to collecting data as called for in new state legislation on racial profiling, to identify potential expenditures that will be needed, and report on how the report's findings will be incorporated into academies and other training programs.