The San Diego Police Department is attempting to deal with two major community complaints: People don’t like to be made to sit on the curb while officers question them, nor do they like to be asked whether they’re on probation or parole.
This month, the department told officers to scale back their use of both tactics. Officers must have a specific reason to order subjects to sit on the curb and should only ask someone’s probation or parole status if they know that person’s criminal history or need to find out immediately. The department plans to make formal policy changes on both issues soon.
Minority community members have felt humiliated and singled out by each of these tactics, said Lei-Chala Wilson, the head of the local chapter of the NAACP.
“You get stopped maybe for a traffic ticket and they take you out your car, and they’re doing further investigation and they’re not sure what reason, but they’re sitting you on the curb,” Wilson said. “So everybody can see you sitting on the curb.”
Wilson and the local ACLU started updating those policies with former Chief William Lansdowne in January. Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU’s policy director, said Lansdowne told her he was shocked at how frequently officers were having people sit on the curb when he did a ride-along.
Dooley-Sammuli said she’s pleased with SDPD’s policy changes, but wants to see how officers in the field react.
“Changing words on a paper have to be met with changing behavior,” Dooley-Sammuli said. “That’s when we’ll really know.”
Next month, SDPD is scheduled to present to a City Council committee new racial data collection from traffic stops, a long-standing policy that had lapsed in recent years. Both the NAACP and ACLU recently asked Council members to require SDPD to provide detailed information about the stops, including how many resulted in arrest by race and by precinct.
Megan Burks contributed to this report.