San Diego Police officers make a traffic stop on University Avenue in City Heights. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

A state law meant to document and combat racial profiling by police has produced some unnerving findings: Racial profiling complaints against law enforcement are rarely sustained, and police in California kill black and Latino citizens at a rate higher than those groups’ share of the population, according to a new report released this week by the state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board.

The 2015 law, written by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, is still being implemented in phases, and the latest report is based on data collected from the eight largest law enforcement agencies in the state – including the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The report includes data and analysis on a number of types of police interactions with the public, and provides recommendations and best practices for agencies to adopt to ensure accountability and build trust within the communities they serve.

Andrea Guerrero, who co-chairs the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board and is executive director of Alliance San Diego, said the best practices aren’t just for agencies – they can be an important tool for communities to hold their local police agencies accountable.

“We’re collecting this data to be actionable, and that will need to be actionable at both the local and the state level. The board is only going to be looking at the state level, but local communities can be looking at their local police agencies to measure their policies and practices, and we’ve provided best practices to allow them to do that,” Guerrero said.

But community members looking to hold police accountable won’t find much solace in some of the numbers in the report. They show that California law enforcement agencies received 9,459 civilian complaints in 2017, including 865 complaints alleging racial or identity profiling.

Of the racial profiling complaints that reached a disposition that year, only 1.5 percent were sustained. More than 80 percent of the complaints were either not sustained or were determined to be unfounded.

The report urges law enforcement agencies to be receptive to civilian complaints.

“Distrust and resentment can evolve among communities that feel marginalized or targeted by law enforcement. To heal these divides, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies demonstrate from investigation to resolution that civilian complaints are heard, taken seriously, and pursued with professionalism and thoroughness,” the report says.

Here’s the breakdown for complaints made to the two San Diego agencies that reported data to the state:

“I think there are questions raised by the data – by the complaint data, there’s also questions raised by use-of-force data about the frequency that law enforcement is using force – and so all of these data points help paint a picture of what’s going on with police-public relations and what the dangers are to the public that is being policed,” Guerrero said. “These data points aren’t conclusive but they raise important questions that we need answers to.”

The board also notes in its report that it plans to further examine another type of high-profile encounter between police and the public – so-called “bias by proxy” incidents, or, as they’re more commonly known, incidents where white people call police on black people they believe look suspicious or dangerous but who aren’t committing crimes. It’s happened to black people who were waiting inside a Starbucks, mowing neighbors’ lawns and recently inside a hotel lobby.

Guerrero said state legislators asked the board to look into bias by proxy incidents after many of them began making the news. Board members found that there’s not a lot of research out there on the topic.

“But there is some literature, there’s some thinking about it from experts and advocates and law enforcement agencies have started to delve into this. So we share out that information about what agencies are doing and what advocates are recommending, and we call for more further exploration and provide at least some initial guidance,” she said.

The Strange Accusation That Upended the 76th District Race

Republican Phil Graham had a lot going for him in the race for the 76th Assembly District: He had the backing of the county and state parties, and he had a famous stepfather, former Gov. Pete Wilson.

But just before the primary, a woman accused him of touching her inappropriately in an Encinitas bar.

Given the blue wave that swept over Southern California, it’s possible Graham wouldn’t have advanced to the general election regardless of the woman’s claim. But it certainly impacted the race – and, law enforcement officials eventually determined – it wasn’t even true.

In a wild investigative piece, VOSD’s Jesse Marx re-examined the woman’s claim against Graham, and the shady ways in which it was amplified to voters even after police found it wasn’t credible.

Water: It’s Maybe Being Taxed, and Definitely Being Measured

Ideas for a so-called “water tax” are floating around Sacramento again. Last year, big water agencies from across the state, including a local coalition led by the San Diego County Water Authority, helped kill one version of the plan, which is meant to raise money for rural water districts by taxing urban water districts.

Many rural water departments can’t manage their own affairs and provide safe, affordable water to their low-income customers. The costs of upgrading treatment operations could cause price spikes on top of already-rising bills. Under last year’s much-debated plan, the tax for most people would be about $1 a month, though there could be exemptions for low-income water customers.

Now, the State Water Resources Control Board and the State Board of Equalization are back with a few other funding ideas, including a new tax on bottled water or income.

The water board is accepting public comments through Feb. 1.

Speaking of water, will the state have enough of it? Too soon to tell.

State surveyors sampled the Sierra Nevada snowpack this week. Snowpack is packed snow. It’s important to us because it banks – snow banks, if you will – water until the spring. In the spring, the snow melts and is shunted through a series of dams and canals all the way from the mountains to right here in Southern California, some 600 miles away.

The results, which came measuring the depth and water content of snow in a field near Lake Tahoe, show lower-than-average amounts of water are available, though there’s several more months of winter to come.

There are a few ways of measuring how much snow we have. The first is counting how much falls from the sky. But that isn’t quite useful enough, because the snow not only has to fall but it has to not melt immediately. There is also something known as the “snow water equivalent,” which attempts to measure the density of snow to see how much water we get when the snow melts.

So, despite some early storms this winter, there is less water than in an average year. About 20 percent less in that one field, and about 30 percent less statewide, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

The state will sample sites several more times until the key April 1 sampling, which is important because that’s the measurement that happens right around the time the snow typically begins to melt.

What all this means for us in San Diego is hard to foresee yet: Not only do we not yet know how much snow will fall or melt in the next few months, but there’s a whole tangle of politics that are changing how much of the water we’re legally entitled to.

This year’s surveys will be the first in three decades without Frank Gehrke, the former chief surveyor for the water resources department. He retired in December and was made famous in April 2015 when he stood next to Gov. Jerry Brown in the field that was then barren, a sign of what was one of the worst droughts to hit California hundreds of years. He, like the snow he sampled, has a San Diego connection – he’s married to Maureen Stapleton, the head of the San Diego County Water Authority.

Ry Rivard

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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