San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said Tuesday that the department will overhaul its racial data collection policies on traffic stops.

“We’ve got to build that system almost from scratch,” Lansdowne told KPBS’s “Midday Edition.”

Lansdowne said he’s meeting with local civil rights and neighborhood advocacy organizations to develop a new plan.

The chief’s stance has shifted in the weeks since our investigation showed officers were not following department policy to collect racial data at every traffic stop. During our reporting, Lansdowne issued a memo reiterating to all officers the department’s requirement to gather this information.

Police department data shows an uptick in collection since Lansdowne’s released his memo in late October. But an initial analysis of the information shows the data likely still isn’t being collected every time a person is pulled over.

The majority of big city police departments have policies to collect such data, and criminal justice experts say the effort is an important way to monitor and prevent police racial profiling.

In the interview Tuesday, Lansdowne said it was taking officers too long to fill out the forms and blamed the department’s old computer system for problems.

Lansdowne also softened his position on whether community members perceive police racial profiling to be an issue in San Diego. Lansdowne had earlier emphasized that community members didn’t bring up concerns about profiling at neighborhood meetings and that none of the few complaints the department received were found valid.

On Tuesday, Lansdowne said the perception does exist.

“I think there is a perception because I go to so many meetings in the city of San Diego,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to get definitive information about specific instances of what occurred so we can look at them. Some of that tracking will allow us to do that.”

Earlier Tuesday, the local ACLU, NAACP and 38 other community organizations and leaders asked Lansdowne in a letter to go further than collecting racial data for traffic stops. The organizations said they were concerned about the chief’s comments that indicated racial profiling wasn’t a community concern.

“As concerned members of the community, we strongly encourage you to not stop at collecting data only for vehicle stops,” the letter said. “Collecting data on all stops, not just vehicle stops, is the only way to get a reliable picture of police-community interaction by race. As the department determined in 2000, when it began collecting data on vehicle stops, these statistics provide an important tool in addressing community concerns about racial profiling.”

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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