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The brutal killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minn., has sparked nationwide protests demanding change, including here in San Diego County. It has brought greater attention to over-policing happening in communities of color, especially the kind of invasive and demeaning police encounters Black people experience daily.
From Otay Mesa to San Diego, and Encinitas to Escondido, people from all walks of life joined with hundreds throughout the county and millions across the nation to demonstrate their outrage over police violence and their determination to end systemic racism.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit responded to the demonstrations with a ban on the carotid restraint and with use of force and de-escalation policies that do not categorically require officers to use de-escalation tactics to avoid the use of force. Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Chula Vista Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, quickly adopted similar policies. None of these policies addresses the magnitude of our region’s policing problems. We demand better.
All San Diegans deserve to live and thrive in our region without being targeted by invasive and harmful policing. Peoples’ experiences and independent reports, however, indicate this is not the lived reality in certain communities. SDPD and the Sheriff’s Department’s internal data confirm that there is a different standard of policing for Black people, Brown people and people with disabilities compared with White people and people without disabilities in the county.
In a 2016 study, San Diego State University researchers analyzed two years’ (2014 to 2015) of SDPD traffic data and found that Black and Latino drivers were more likely to be searched during a traffic stop but less likely to be found with contraband, compared with White drivers. But the San Diego City Council shelved the SDSU study and did not act on any of its recommendations.
In 2019, the Campaign Zero report Evaluating Policing in San Diego echoed the results found by the SDSU study. The report, commissioned by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, found other troubling disparities as well. For example, it found that Black people were 219 percent more likely to be stopped by San Diego police officers than White people; and were stopped by Sheriff’s deputies at higher rates than White people in every jurisdiction of the county.
Despite those findings, SDPD and the Sheriff’s Department skirted responsibility. To this day, the county’s two largest law enforcement agencies resist making meaningful changes and refuse to acknowledge, address and hold their officers accountable for biased policing.
On July 6, the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency proposed a set of policy changes called Police Accountability Now. This policy package, developed with feedback from community members and partners, aims to reduce law enforcement presence in communities of color and address biased policing and police violence. Its recommendations are listed below.
- Local governments in our region should pass the Preventing Over Policing Through Equitable Community Treatment, or PrOTECT, proposal: A law that would ban consent searches and stops, and end pretext stops, in which, for example, a police officer uses a minor violation as an excuse to stop a person and question them about unrelated activities.
- Research shows these discretionary stops are used disproportionately on Black and Brown San Diegans. This law aims to reduce police encounters with Black and Brown community members.
- Decriminalization of certain low-level offenses and investment in non-law enforcement interventions by divesting from the police budget. Among other things, police should not be first responders to calls involving people experiencing mental illness and homelessness.
- An independent community-led oversight commission with robust powers
- Strong use of force and de-escalation policies that ensure the full spirit and vision of AB 392 is implemented
While not the solution to all of the region’s policing problems, adoption of the CPAT Police Accountability Now policy package is an important first step to meaningfully address over-policing in our Black and Latino communities and elsewhere in San Diego County.
It’s not enough to say police won’t choke us. Our elected officials must swiftly and boldly confront the injustice that pervades policing in San Diego County and enact policies that reduce the role and scope of law enforcement in our communities and in our lives.
Andrea St. Julian is an attorney, president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association and member of the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency. She is principal author of Measure B on the November ballot to create the Commission on Police Practices. Chelsey Birgisdóttir is a policy associate with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, where she works with community partners to develop and execute campaigns to address police accountability and transparency. She represents the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties in the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency.