Councilwoman Marti Emerald has ordered an independent review of police data on racial profiling.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman presented to the City Council’s public safety committee Wednesday an update on racial data from traffic stops. Like the last round of numbers, it was inconclusive on whether there’s a practice in the department of targeting individuals based on their race.

Emerald has enlisted San Diego State’s School of Public Affairs to conduct its own analysis.

Wednesday’s numbers don’t vary widely from what the department presented in May, when it first responded to citizens and policymakers’ calls for greater transparency with data.

Between January and December 2014, black and Hispanic drivers were pulled over at rates higher than their share of the driving population. The gap did, however, narrow by 1 percentage point for black drivers.

The department’s analysis of the data also hasn’t changed much.

Drawing on independent studies of traffic stop data in 2000 and 2001, the department says it can’t come to any firm conclusions. It says because San Diego attracts tourists, is a border city and hosts several military bases, there isn’t a good baseline for its driving population. If the people on its roads are always changing, it can’t reliably make comparisons between the race of those stopped and the overall makeup of commuters.

Academic researchers tend to agree measuring racial profiling is tough, but typically not because of changes in the driving population. They say the data must take into account higher crime rates and stronger police presence in traditionally black and Latino neighborhoods.

But it is possible. Criminologist Jeffrey Fagan developed a statistical analysis that took into account those variables in New York City. His reports were used as evidence in court cases challenging stop and frisk tactics there.

The department renewed its efforts last year to record the race of drivers its officers stop. The data can help gauge whether the officers engage in racial profiling. The enhanced data collection came after a Voice of San Diego and KPBS investigation revealed the department had stopped collecting the data.

The department also responded to community concerns about racial profiling by requiring its officers to wear body cameras. Chief Zimmerman said she’ll present early findings from the department’s body camera program next month.

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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