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Both San Diego mayoral candidates believe the police department needs more resources to combat racial profiling and plan to push for more cops and better pay if they’re elected.

This is nothing different than Democratic City Councilman David Alvarez and Republican Councilman Kevin Faulconer have said throughout the campaign. Alvarez and Faulconer say more cops will lead to better interactions with the community, something they hope will engender greater trust.

The candidates diverge, however, when it comes to whether racial profiling happens in San Diego. Alvarez thinks it does – a belief bolstered by an experience of his own about a decade ago. Faulconer won’t say definitively.

They’ll get a chance to hear community members’ views on profiling Wednesday. The Council’s public safety committee will talk to police brass about what they’re doing to prevent profiling. The local ACLU and other civil rights and community organizations are gathering people to talk about their experiences with SDPD and profiling. Already, Chief William Lansdowne has committed to overhauling the department’s policy of collecting racial data at every traffic stop after SDPD has ignored the effort for years.

I spoke with Alvarez and Faulconer to get their perspective on the department’s approach to racial profiling concerns and see what they might do as mayor.

What Alvarez Says

Aside from hiring more cops, Alvarez talked up greater cultural competency training for officers and the idea of a school that could feed more locals into the police department. During our mayoral debate in the fall, Alvarez seemed to take a shot at Lansdowne’s record on racial profiling issues. But he praised the chief’s leadership Friday.

“He’s done a great job given the limited resources in spending time with me and communities that I represent to talk about issues that ensure that there is fair treatment of individuals,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez supports the department’s pledge to collect traffic stop data again.

“I’m hopeful that the corrective steps that have been taken by the chief and by the department at this point are a little bit of a wake-up call that we always have to be cognizant and we always have to be vigilant,” Alvarez said.

What Faulconer Says

Faulconer talked a lot about trust. The department used to be a national leader in community policing, a style of law enforcement that focuses on crime prevention as much as response. And like its efforts to combat racial profiling, SDPD’s community policing efforts have fallen off as well.

Faulconer wants to bring community policing back, saying it will help prevent profiling.

“I think the best approach is to continue to ensure that the department is interacting with the community, interacting in every sense of the word,” Faulconer said. “In terms of community policing, outreach, community events and making sure that they’re building bonds. That’s how you establish trust. It’s literally people talking to people.”

Alvarez Says Racial Profiling Happens Here; Faulconer Won’t Say

I asked both candidates if profiling happens in San Diego.

“I believe it does, yes,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think it’s rampant and every officer or all the time. But to say that it doesn’t or that it never happens, I think would not be an accurate statement.”

Faulconer wouldn’t answer directly, though I asked the question four times. Here’s our exchange:

LD: Do you believe that racial profiling happens here?

KF: I think racial profiling is something you have to constantly guard against. You have to make sure that the department is following all of its procedures, and it’s about interacting with the community. I think that our men and women that proudly serve this city do a remarkable job every single day.

LD: But do you believe that it is something that does occur in San Diego?

KF: Like I said, I think it’s something you have to ensure that you’re always constantly aware of it, you’re constantly vigilant about it. (Faulconer continued talking here for another minute, but wouldn’t say yes or no.)

LD: But as far as my specific question about whether you believe that it is something that does occur here or not, do you have a direct answer to that specific question?

KF: I think I did. And you to have ensure you’re vigilant …

LD: Right. You said you have to guard against it, and again, that’s fair enough. But my question was, sort of a yes or no, whether you think that it occurs here or it does not occur here.

KF: Like I said, I think our department does a remarkable job of interacting with the community and it’s something that you have to continue to be vigilant with.

What Happened to Alvarez?

Alvarez, who is Hispanic, said at our mayoral debate in the fall that he believed he’d been pulled over unnecessarily because of his race. He didn’t give details. Alvarez was still reluctant to discuss the incident when we spoke, but said it occurred here a little less than a decade ago.

“It was a typical pull-over,” he said. “The circumstance was I was in a particular neighborhood of the city. It very much felt like an interrogation that occurred. Questions like, ‘Why are you here?’ It led me to believe that the reason why I was stopped was because I didn’t look like the average person that lived in that neighborhood. That’s the extent that I want to share about that. It was an unfortunate circumstance.”

Liam Dillon

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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