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During a recent two-week trial run of new state requirements, San Diego Police and San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies stopped Hispanic and black drivers at a higher rate than their share of the local population, newly released data from the California attorney general’s office shows. The difference was most dramatic for black people in the city of San Diego, who make up 6 percent of the population, but were stopped 18 percent of the time by participating city police.
Both San Diego law enforcement agencies participated in a pilot program ahead of new requirements soon to be rolled out as part of a 2015 law authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber that aims to collect data in order to identify and deter police racial profiling. In a Feb. 24 VOSD op-ed, Weber wrote the new law is “aimed at ensuring that all Californians are treated fairly by law enforcement.”
Racial stop data can be a tool to track possible police bias, though its value is debated by researchers. The new numbers offer a small window into the pedestrian and vehicle stops made by 30 officers at each of the 10 participating law enforcement agencies over a two-week period in May.
Participants reported the perceived race of those stopped, choosing from seven options that included Asian, black, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern or South Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander and white. In some instances, officers chose more than one race for a single individual, the data shows.
Each participating officer could submit data for up to 14 stops, said a spokeswoman for the California Department of Justice. Spokesmen for both San Diego law enforcement agencies discouraged comparing the numbers to local demographics, saying the sample is too small and the pilot was only meant to iron out the data-submission process.
“Nothing really surprising in this snapshot,” said Joe Kocurek, Weber’s communications director. “These preliminary numbers reflect the experience of people in communities of color. But numbers like this will be more meaningful when we have a larger sample size and other data, including information about the outcome of these stops.”
“Claims suggesting its officers engage in racial profiling are unfounded,” Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, wrote in a letter to the City Council earlier this year, reacting to the SDSU findings. “While the SDPOA is not naïve enough to believe that racial profiling can never occur within SDPD, we are confident that if any such instances come to light that they will be dealt with promptly and appropriately.”
A San Diego County Sheriff’s official said he could offer no larger dataset showing deputy stops by race.
Out of 325 stops made by San Diego police for the pilot program, Hispanics and blacks were stopped 51 percent of the time, even though those groups combined make up only 35 percent of the city population, according to 2010 Census data reported by the San Diego Association of Governments. In contrast, city police stopped white people 42 percent of the time, less than their 45 percent share of the city population.
San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies — who patrol Del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, Solana Beach and Vista, as well as the county’s unincorporated areas — reported 322 stops to the California attorney general.
Nearly 39 percent of the San Diego Sheriff’s deputies stops involved Hispanics and Blacks, even though those groups together make up 31 percent of the population in all sheriff patrol areas. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s deputies stopped whites 53 percent of the time, less than the 59 percent white population recorded by the 2010 Census in those areas.
The two San Diego agencies participated in the pilot along with the California Highway Patrol, Gardena Police, Los Angeles Police, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Police Department and Ventura Police Department.
Looking at the race percentages of the stops alone, San Diego Police and Sheriff’s deputies generally fell in the middle of the 10-agency pack across all “perceived race” groups.
To see the racial breakdown of the stops submitted by each pilot agency, click here.
Some agency percentages exceed 100 percent because an officer selected more than one race per stop. To calculate each race percentage, the number of times a race was marked by each agency was divided by the total number of stops reported by that agency.
A Guessing Game
Taking a closer look at the 3,000 field test entries from all agencies shows room for improvement.
Not only did some officers select more than one race per stop, a handful selected all races for a single stop.
Even though officers submitted details about the reason for each stop and the outcome, the “reason for stop” entries appear as indiscernible numbers not shown on the questionnaires used.
Other entries are also muddied by a high volume of vague answers.
The “reason for presence” entered by half of all San Diego Police and County Sheriff’s deputies, for instance, was simply “NA.” Another 26 percent marked “patrol.”
San Diego Agencies Weigh in
San Diego Police officials said the feedback submitted by officers directly to the attorney general was not shared with them, but some pilot participants did complain about the amount of time the data took to submit, which was more detailed than stop data already collected by the department, said San Diego Police Assistant Chief Chuck Kaye.
“At no time were we invited to the table to discuss the proposed legislation and how it might impact the delivery of services or how it might identify bias,” Kaye said. “The hope is that the (new law’s) requirements will not impede individual department services.”
Time is precious. As it is, zero to 20 percent of an officer’s time on duty is uncommitted, even though the golden standard is up to 40 percent, Kaye said.
San Diego police spokesman Lt. Scott Wahl said officers make 140,000 traffic stops a year, and respond to 520,000 calls for service. He said last year, just 15 race-related complaints were filed against officers: Seven were withdrawn, and eight complaint investigations exonerated the officer.
“There is no profession more committed to ensuring that bias is not a factor,” Wahl said. “I think some of the most unbiased people in society are police officers. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all nationalities … all walks of life.”
At the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, spokesman Ryan Keim said in a statement their pilot data represents just 0.0015 percent of the 214,000 average deputy-initiated contacts a year, and it “was not intended for any statistical analysis. The data pool is not large or dynamic enough to be representative of any larger-trends.” Keim said he could not produce a larger dataset, because, “we don’t have that information compiled in one location.”
The Sheriff’s Department is working on developing a mobile app for deputies to enter stop data in the field, though, and is waiting for the attorney general’s office to finalize the inputs for the new law before tailoring the app to match, Keim said.
“We have a talented and diverse department that continually partners and works to build trust with all segments of the community on a daily basis,” Keim said. “Our commitment to community-oriented policing has dropped crime rates to historic lows and transformed San Diego into one of the safest urban counties in the country.”
California’s largest law enforcement agencies will have to submit their first annual stop report required by the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 by April 2019. Other agencies will follow, with full implementation by April 2023.