‘We have work to do’: Report finds racial disparities in San Diego policing

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A report released Thursday by a Yale University-based research organization found distinct racial disparities in police contacts — including searches, traffic stops and arrests — over a recent five-year period in San Diego.

After accounting for neighborhood demographics and rates of crime and poverty, the Center for Policing Equity analysis determined that:

  • Black people experienced non-traffic police stops 4.2 times as often in San Diego as white people did over the period;
  • Black people, who comprise 6.1% of the estimated residential population served by the SDPD, made up nearly a quarter of those contacts;
  • As compared with white people, Black citizens involved in traffic stops were searched 2.5 times as often and Hispanic people were searched 2.2 times more frequently;
  • Black people were subjected to force 4.8 times as often as white people; and
  • among those who experienced use of force — the three most common types being holds, firearm-pointing and “takedown” — 26.3%  were Black.

“The data is clear — we have work to do,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in response to the findings. “We’ve known for some time that racial disparities exist in policing, and I want to commend our police department for commissioning (a) study that takes a deeper dive to determine how we can improve.”

Conducted as part of the CPE’s National Justice Database project, the report examined data from 2016-2020 from three police practices: traffic stops, non-traffic stops and use of force.

The overriding goal was to identify any racial disparities in police interactions with members of the public and determine the extent to which those inequalities were caused by inequitable practices or other factors outside of the SDPD’s direct control, according to the research center.

While asserting that the SDPD “strives to treat all San Diegans equally when working to address crime in our city,”  Police Chief David Nisleit acknowledged that department officials had “anticipated that the findings would likely show disparities in our interactions and bring up pain felt by some of our communities of color.”

“SDPD expects officers to act professionally every single day and with every contact,” Nisleit said. “The department looks forward to how this report and community feedback can help us improve our practices and strengthen the ties we have with San Diegans.”

Citizens will have a chance to learn more about the issues raised in the report and air their concerns and opinions during two virtual community forums, including one tailored for youths, scheduled over the next two weeks, the mayor noted.

“This isn’t an easy conversation to have, but it’s an important one, and I encourage every San Diegan to join us, listen and share (their) thoughts on how we can improve public safety together,” Gloria said.

The research center provided the department with a range of potential steps to improve its data-collection protocols; investigate disparities in more depth and identify risk factors that may contribute to them; and develop targeted interventions to address those risk factors.

“The findings from this report will inform the SDPD’s longer-term commitment to creating an inclusive and data-driven approach to equitable policing,” according to an SDPD statement. “In the coming months, SDPD will continue to explore the causes of the racial disparities identified in the analysis while seeking the insight of Black, Brown and other communities most impacted by disparate policing.”

The CPE analysis asserts that racial disparities among those involved in police contacts “are important to measure because they shed light on specific sources of frustration and the risk of harmful outcomes in communities — an essential step in identifying effective reforms.”

“But disparities do not necessarily indicate that police officers have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior toward different racial groups,” the authors of the report wrote, noting that “both internal and external factors … could contribute to disparities in policing practices.”

“Internal factors include policies and procedures, (particular police) units that contribute to a high portion of stops or implicit and explicit biases of officers,” the report states. “External factors considered in the analysis include accounting for crime rates, poverty rates and neighborhood demographics.”

The report can be viewed online at sandiego.gov/CPEreport.

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