San Diego Police officers make a traffic stop on University Avenue in City Heights in 2014. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego police are more likely to stop lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people for reasonable suspicion and more likely to handcuff them compared with cisgender people, according to a year’s worth of police stop data analyzed by Voice of San Diego and the UC San Diego Extension Center for Research.

Data from SDPD stops from July 2018 to July 2019 was collected to comply with a California law known as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA. Officers were asked a series of questions about the race, gender and other identifying features of those stopped.

Some local LGBTQ organization leaders say the results accurately reflect the community’s encounters with police and demonstrate that more needs to be done to deter bias.

“This bias at the hands of law enforcement is echoed by our community’s lived experience and undermines law enforcement’s ability to create safe communities in San Diego,” wrote Cara Dessert, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, in a statement.

SDPD spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Jordon said more information is needed about the LGBT and transgender stops logged by police before drawing any conclusions.

For every stop, police officers were asked whether the person was perceived to be LGBT and asked separately what gender the person was perceived to be, with options to mark transgender man or woman. Though transgender individuals should be included in the LGBT data, not all officers answered the questions consistently. Police are not allowed to ask people questions to gather information about their identity – the data reflects the officer’s perceptions.

For the two groups, UCSD data scientists compared traffic stops to reasonable suspicion stops, which are more subject to officer bias. Reasons for suspicion may include the officer witnessed a crime, the person was identified as a suspect by a witness or victim, the person was thought to match a suspect description or to be carrying a suspicious object, was thought to be casing a victim or location, was suspected of acting as a lookout, if the person’s actions indicated participation in a drug transaction or violent crime or for another unspecified reason.

The UCSD researchers also compared police actions logged after the stop was made and found statistical significance in the rates of handcuffing (more often) and no action taken (less often) among the LGBT and transgender populations.

Specifically, SDPD reported stopping an LGBT person 4,523 times. Reasonable suspicion was listed as the reason for the stop about 63.7 percent of the time, compared with 49.9 percent of the 175,198 reasons given for stopping those not perceived as LGBT.

Traffic violations, considered to be a more blind data point, showed the opposite dynamic with lower rates of transgender people stopped for traffic violations than cisgender people.

SDPD reported stopping a transgender person 507 times, and listed reasonable suspicion as the reason 75.5 percent of the time. By comparison, police stopped 179,145 non-transgender people, and listed reasonable suspicion as the reason 50.2 percent of the time.

Transgender people were stopped for traffic violations 13.8 percent of the time, compared with 43 percent for non-transgender people stopped.

Once stopped, San Diego police actions taken with LGBT and transgender people included handcuffing more often than no action, the data shows.

Police reported taking 7,295 actions for LGBT people stopped. About 20.5 percent of those actions were handcuffing or flex cuffing, compared with 16.4 percent of the 263,135 actions reported for cisgender people.

Just 34.1 percent of the actions reported for LGBT indicated no action was taken, compared with 42.9 percent for cisgender people.

Out of 860 actions reported for transgender people, 21.3 percent listed handcuffing or flex cuffing, compared with 16.5 percent of the 269,570 actions taken for the non-transgender people stopped. Police took no action less than 30 percent of the time for transgender people, compared with 42.7 percent of the time for the non-transgender population, the data shows.

“Every San Diegan deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer in an email.

Faulconer commended the city’s existing police training on diversity and said the department “is one of the few law enforcement agencies in the country with a dedicated LGBTQ liaison to work directly with the community. I plan to continue holding our police officers to the highest standards of conduct.”

Faulconer also said he looks forward to the recommendations that will come from the Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit think tank currently analyzing city police stop data.

“Reports like these are troubling, but not surprising,” wrote Fernando Lopez, CEO of the nonprofit San Diego LGBT Pride, in an email. “Being a part of the LGBTQ community means that our lived experiences have been subject to intentional and unintentional discrimination. That is exactly what our movement is here to correct. … Change not only takes time, but it takes work and education.”

To that end, Lopez said their organization helps train local law enforcement, including sheriff’s corrections officers, on LGBTQ cultural competency and hopes to expand that work.

Lopez praised Faulconer, the San Diego City Council and Police Chief David Nisleit for valuing “LGBTQ liberty and equity,” as well as the San Diego Police Department’s LGBTQ community liaisons.

“I can personally speak to their efforts and responsiveness. They are always there for us in times of crisis or concern,” Lopez wrote.

Dessert, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, said the results, and those of an analysis recently done by Campaign Zero for the ACLU, point to a need for change to address anti-black, anti-Latinx and anti-LGBTQ police bias. She advocated changes like adopting “more restrictive use-of-force policies, banning consent searches and stops for equipment violations, strengthening community involvement and oversight to ensure accountability.”

Jack Schaeffer, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, did not respond to requests for comment.

Jordon, the SDPD spokesman, said it is premature to sound the alarm based on the stop cause and police action data points highlighted by the UCSD researchers.

“For handcuffing, I would need to evaluate is it handcuffing alone, or is it handcuffing with a search and the reason for the search along with the final disposition of the stop – like were the persons arrested and transported to jail or detained and transported to County Mental Health for an evaluation or given a transport for other services. For reasonable suspicion, I would need to know the associated crime elements in the data report, were they infractions or misdemeanors associated with homelessness and where persons are being stopped – the beat – would help,” Jordon wrote in an email.

San Diego attorney Douglas A. Oden, who sits on the RIPA advisory board, said the reasonable suspicion data points are notable, even if the volume of transgender stops is relatively small.

“Anytime there are significant disparities in stops for any classification whether race or gender, it raises concerns,” said Oden, who said further analysis may also reveal overlapping disparities. “You may have an African American who is transgender, or who may appear to be gay or lesbian. So, there may be some intersections you’ve got to take a look at it.”

“I think overall, in time, this will be a very useful tool,” Oden said of the RIPA data. “The fact law enforcement has to do this type of analysis can be a deterrent to profiling. If you know you have to document the stop, that gives you pause if you know you’ve got to leave a trail.”

Oden said the state Department of Justice’s analysis of the first wave of RIPA stop data, including data from SDPD, is due out early next year and “will be fairly comprehensive.”

Clarification: This post has been updated to reflect Fernando Lopez’s preferred pronouns.

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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