On Monday, Feb. 27, San Diego City Council will receive the final San Diego State University report that examined two years of San Diego Police Department traffic stop data. Council members will also get the results of police and community surveys conducted by the report’s authors.
Initial findings confirmed what many of my constituents have asserted for years; and what some of my neighbors, former students, my friends and my own son have recalled from their own experience: Black and Latino drivers are stopped, searched and questioned at rates higher than their share of the San Diego population.
At Monday’s meeting, the full City Council will have its first opportunity to weigh in on the SDSU report. What more can the public expect to learn at this hearing? More clarity about why people of color are disproportionately pulled over? Or perhaps an explanation for why white drivers, proven to be more likely than black drivers and Latino drivers to have contraband when stopped, are only half as likely to be searched?
We all have an interest in ensuring that racial profiling is not a practice in policing. We expect to hear from SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman about how the department will respond to the report’s recommendations and the serious concerns raised by community members. I hope that San Diego City Council members, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the wider community will also press for this information and require specific commitments about what the SDPD will do to address the issues raised in the report.
To date, Zimmerman’s explanation for the troubling disparities in how police officers interact with the public is that everyone has bias. That may be true, but this report is not about everyone; it is about the police department charged with protecting the public’s safety. If there is bias in the SDPD, Zimmerman has an obligation to address it and not offer empty statements that dismiss the legitimate concerns of communities of color.
The Racial and Identity Profiling Act, signed into law in 2015, is aimed at ensuring that all Californians are treated fairly by law enforcement by collecting information regarding stops made by police. As author of the law, I would encourage the city to implement it ahead of schedule once the regulations are finalized this year.
This law is not about looking for scapegoats; the identities of the participants, including officers, are protected. It’s about data. It’s about identifying, quantifying and addressing the wasteful and unjust practice of racial profiling, a practice that only serves to reduce law enforcement effectiveness while unnecessarily increasing tensions between police and communities of color. Strengthening police and community relations begins with identifying the scope of this problem and working together to solve it.
In 2000, the SDPD was a national leader in collecting demographic data to address community concerns about biased policing, but then fell out of compliance with its own policy. By implementing the Racial and Identity Profiling Act ahead of schedule, the San Diego Police Department can lead again.
Shirley N. Weber is an Assembly member representing California’s 79th District. Weber’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.