San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit speaks at a press conference in downtown on April 20, 2023.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit speaks at a press conference in downtown on April 20, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

After the protests of 2020, San Diego Police Department chief David Nisleit – like many chiefs across the country – made a big promise. He said he could and would reduce racial disparities in policing across the city.

“Law enforcement agencies can make an impact to significantly reduce disparate policing outcomes,” he wrote in the Union-Tribune. He detailed many operational changes – such as pulling officers off of public transit and ending “saturation stops” – that he promised would “reduce disparate treatment.”

Those moves are among the reasons that stops have fallen by nearly half across the city. But they have not reduced racial disparities, a new analysis by Voice of San Diego finds.

Rather than decreasing, racial disparities in police stops have actually crept up since 2020. A police stop could be when an officer pulls someone over or when an officer on a bicycle or on foot stops someone.

Among all police stops, the share that involved Latino residents has gone up, while the share of stops of White people has gone down. Black people represent roughly the same share of residents stopped by police now that they did three years ago.

The drastic decrease in stops means that, in raw numbers, fewer people of all races are being stopped by police. But within the overall number of stops, the shares between racial groups are just as mismatched as ever.

Black San Diegans experience, by far, the largest disparity. Despite representing just six percent of the population, they represent 20 percent of the people stopped by SDPD. Meanwhile, the proportion of stops on Latino people and other races has increased and the proportion of stops on White San Diegans has gone down.

Asians represent a much smaller share of stops than their share of the population.

For stops that ended with a cop using force, the disparities are even more stark.

For the first time in 2022, force was used against more Black people than White people – not just at a higher rate, but in actual raw numbers. That’s despite the fact that White people represent roughly 42 percent of the population while Black people represent just six percent.

Another strange fact about use of force cases: In raw numbers, they haven’t gone down at all. Even though the number of stops have fallen by nearly half, the number of stops that end in violence have gone up. In 2019, 3,486 stops ended in some form of violence. In 2022, the number was 3,544.

Here’s another way to think about it: The percentage of stops that end with violence is going up. In 2019, cops used force in 1.9 percent of stops. In 2022, they used force in 3.7 percent.

The data analyzed by Voice is reported by each department as part of California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act, or RIPA. The data isn’t perfect. The reported race is based on each officer’s perception of the person they stopped, rather than definitive demographic information.

The RIPA data includes different types of force a police officer might use. It might mean that a gun was fired or unholstered and pointed at a person. It could also mean a stun gun was used or a person was physically restrained or even that an officer used their car to physically detain a person.

Racial disparities in policing have been well documented in San Diego and throughout the country for years. Multiple reports – including those that have controlled for crime and poverty rates – have found Black San Diegans are stopped and have force used against them more than other people. Voice’s findings show the situation has not materially changed.

Protesters gather on 6th Avenue in downtown where San Diego Police officers shot and wounded a Latino man in June 2020. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

“The fact that racial profiling continues to persist, and at higher numbers, means SDPD has doubled down on their discriminatory, race-based practices,” wrote Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a Black activist who has campaigned for police reform, in an email.

For the most part, police officials have pushed back or even reacted with hostility toward findings of racial disparities. That is what made Nisleit’s April 2021 op-ed so unique. He conceded that disparities were real and that the department could bring them down.  

Nisleit promised at the time that he had already made changes that would bring down disparities. He stopped officers from patrolling MTS trolleys; he banned chokeholds and “saturations stops” that target areas with perceived higher rates of crime. Nisleit also wrote that he would make “strategic” decisions about “where officers are staffed, along with their mission and priorities.”

But when it comes to racial disparities, police leaders like Nisleit are trying to walk a fine line in logic. They will bring down disparities, they say, but the situation is also out of their control.

Nisleit wrote: “Disparities in policing outcomes begin with external factors found in our communities outside of law enforcement’s exclusive control, such as educational and employment opportunities, poverty, homelessness, access to physical and mental health care, and crime.”

Jared Wilson, president of SDPD’s police union, said something similar, but blunter.

“I just reject the notion that we should be stopping people at rates that mirror [population percentages],” Wilson said. “Studies show that unfortunately communities of color are more impacted by violent crime. I reject the notion my officers are racist. It’s offensive.”

SDPD Captain Jeff Jordon reiterated this point. He noted, for instance, that force is used more often in East Village related to homelessness than in other parts of the city. The homeless population has a disproportionate amount of Black people – something SDPD can’t control, Jordon said.

Two San Diego Police officers watch as two residents gather up their belongings during a homeless camp clean-up on Sept. 28, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

That’s going to “disproportionately skew those numbers,” he said.

Robert Weisberg, a professor of law and criminal justice at Stanford University, said it’s true that lots of reported crime disproportionately occurs in communities of color. And he said it’s also reasonable to think that police stop data would not exactly mirror population demographics. But that logic does not justify some the large disparities seen in much of American policing, he said.

Take the force used statistic – that Black people represent five percent of the city’s population, but 27 percent of cases in which force is used.

“With disparity like that there is a huge burden of proof on the city to explain things. You can’t carry that burden of proof with just the general mantra that it’s a higher crime neighborhood,” said Weisberg.

Jones-Wright issued a warning to city leaders activists have not forgotten about police reform.

“We need substantive change in our policing system and we need it now. Any member of the San Diego City Council who doesn’t act with that in mind is going to face an uphill battle when it’s time for reelection,” she wrote.

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

Join the Conversation


  1. The DOJ tracks criminal offenses by race and publishes a chart containing the information. I don’t have an answer for why a demo representing 12% of the population is charged with committing more than 50% of the murders in 2020, 50% of the robberies, 40% of the weapons charges, but I know racial profiling by SDPD is not it. The arrest data here tracks with the DOJ chart. This article is misleading and irresponsible, so pretty much on brand for you guys.

  2. Have you ever read “how to lie with statistics”. If you haven’t? You should. Police are. NOT racist nor are they “disproportionately targeting blacks”. It is a continuous lie and the media machine (95% owned by democrat billionaires) is firing up the propaganda machine ahead of an election cycle. Police go out to do their jobs and respond to crimes. Over 50% of all violent crime is committed by black people but they are only 13% of the population, why is that? Why is it that university professors who do not live in the real world, consistently label something discriminatory or one-of-the-phobics, every time they do not understand something. It is just insane. The rest of the world stopped focusing on race and gender and things are great. Only in America is there a continuous barrage of propaganda to create the narrative of racism and “in-equity”. It’s all BS. Anyone can do or be anything they choose. The police look for crime, not color/gender.

  3. This article is focused on the wrong topic. It should be focused on why people of color are arrested at such a high percentage? Is this due to police profiling or is it due to a large percentage of people of color living in poor communities with high crime rates? From there, you dig deeper. If it is due to the community, then dig into why crime rates are so high in these communities.

    Here’s the point. Police need to keep the public safe from crime – regardless of the ethnicity or demographics of the criminals. If we force the police to meter who will be arrested based on race, their focus shifts to numbers, not crime. First, we need to identify IF there truly is a problem with profiling. If not, we know the problem is in these communities. From there, we can now ask relevant questions to identify the root cause. From there, potential solutions can be discussed.

  4. SDPD’s union president Wilson said “Studies show that unfortunately communities of color are more impacted by violent crime.” And “Robert Weisberg, a professor of law and criminal justice at Stanford University, said it’s true that lots of reported crime disproportionately occurs in communities of color.” Has VOSD used the raw data to test these statements? If the raw data supported or disputed these statements, how would that change the interpretation of the data presented here?

  5. This may very well be the best agenda driven piece from Will Huntsberry that I’ve read in VofSD. Twisting statistics to fit a agenda is not admirable.

  6. Lazy? Biased? Ignorant? Hard to figure why somebody would do a story citing statistics but not even include the most obvious question — what % of crime does each population commit?
    From the comment section it appears the readers did way more research than VOSD.

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