Former Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Back at the very beginning of 2014, we published an investigation into the San Diego Police Department’s efforts – or lack thereof – to combat racial profiling.

Shelley Zimmerman, who was then an assistant police chief who would soon ascend to chief, said something astonishing: “It hasn’t come up in years and years and years in interactions with the community.”

Community members and activists were shocked and confused. They’d voiced countless racial profiling concerns to the department.

Wherever Zimmerman got the idea that SDPD hadn’t heard complaints about racial profiling, the department certainly heard about them after that. SDPD soon launched a series of community forums, where it got an earful each time about profiling.

An SDSU study published in 2016 showed black drivers were searched more often than white drivers, though white drivers were more likely to have contraband. SDSU researchers acknowledged they watered down the study to avoid offending the department.

Zimmerman said at the time that it’s difficult to use such statistics to draw conclusions about profiling.

That’s also how an SDPD spokesman reacted last month to more recent data that showed … SDPD searched black drivers more often, though white drivers were more likely to have contraband.

This week, the state Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board released data from eight of the largest law enforcement agencies in California showing – wait for it – that police stop and search black drivers more often, though white drivers are more likely to have contraband.

No police officer in 2020 could credibly claim, as Zimmerman bizarrely did, that they don’t hear any public complaints about racial profiling. But it’s not clear whether yet another set of data showing that it happens will lead to any changes.

What VOSD Learned This Week

What will 2020 look like? Well, there’s certain to be more GOP soul-searching following the defections of several high-profile politicians, continued grappling over the extent to which we rely on cars, new efforts to combat homelessness and perhaps a new county office dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees. The fights over AB 5 – which is now the law of the land – are already continuing in the New Year. On the podcast, we talked about what we’re looking forward to in the year ahead.


And here’s hoping that things get a little easier for anyone seeking public records in 2020. Despite a landmark police transparency law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, obtaining those records still was far from easy. We rounded up the denials we got over the last year on records that would shed light on some of those police abuses, plus teacher misconduct, the Mission Valley stadium deal and more. Alas, all of those records will stay hidden for now.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“If you’re going to edit a piece, the smart move is to edit before it publishes.” –I endorse this advice and am free to offer more helpful tips to New York Times editors

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

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