Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon joined VOSD Radio co-hosts Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts this week to talk about a new, pretty heavy beat he’s been tackling with fellow reporter Megan Burks.
The two of them embarked on an investigation of the San Diego Police Department’s lax follow-through on a policy to collect racial data during traffic stops. Ten years ago, San Diego was leading the way in addressing concerns of racial profiling. Now? Not so much.
On this week’s podcast, Dillon gave us a snapshot of the department’s adherence, and expanded on his conversation with Benjamin Kelso, head of the San Diego Black Police Officers Association, who’s had his own trouble with profiling. Here are some key takeaways from Dillon’s appearance.
There’s a disconnect between what police and the community think is happening.
“So the department for instance says, ‘Listen, we don’t get any complaints. The complaints that we get, we investigate. We don’t find that they’re valid, so there’s not really much of a problem here.’ However, we had the head of the local NAACP, we had the head of the local black officers group here who was also an SDPD officer, we’ve had a city councilman all say, ‘Listen, racial profiling is an issue in San Diego.’”
It’s not that the department isn’t doing anything at all.
“They’ll argue that they have 140 community meetings that they’ll go to every [month]. They have a multicultural center in City Heights where folks speak a lot of different languages. They have officers that speak a lot of different languages there, but there is some concern that — Benjamin Kelso, the head of the black POA, David Alvarez, city councilman — both brought up that they feel the training the department does offer now is not as good as it’s been in the past.”
Racial profiling is fundamentally damaging to the larger community.
“Ultimately the issue with racial profiling is the trust between police and the communities they serve. If you have people that don’t trust the police, they’re less likely to — and studies have shown this — less likely to go talk to police as witnesses, less likely to voluntarily follow the law because they don’t believe that the law applies equitably to them.”
It’s up to law enforcement to get in front of this.
“The history of urban policing — particularly since the Civil Rights era — a lot of it’s been about race, and you have to accept that and then deal with it proactively rather than saying, ‘Well, no one’s asking us about it, so maybe it’s not here.’”
Download the rest of the show below to hear about one of the more standout cases of racial profiling in City Heights in recent years, and more on the reporters’ experience reporting the story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said San Diego Police Department officials attend roughly 140 community meetings a year. The error also appears in the accompanying audio. The department says it attends 140 community meetings a month. We regret the error.