Racism has long been a problem in American society and racial biases have long been a problem within law enforcement agencies. Sadly, it took the death of George Floyd to inspire true reforms in America’s police forces. San Diego is no different from the rest of the country in this regard, but we have the opportunity to make things better. In fact, here are some ways the County is already working to improve things.
Recognizing the Problem
Before a problem can be fixed, it needs to be recognized and data confirms that racial biases are a serious problem in San Diego. In fact, a recent study by the Union Tribune found that San Diego’s two largest law enforcement agencies, the San Diego Police Department and San Diego Sheriff’s Department both have a serious problem with racial disparities when it comes to traffic stops, searches and use of force.
Specifically, despite the fact that Black residents make up less than 6% of the county’s population, 20% of traffic stops by SDPD officers involved Black drivers. Relative to their portion of the population, African American drivers in San Diego are 219% more likely to be stopped than White drivers.
Interestingly, a study by Project Zero revealed that where Blacks drive can dramatically increase the likelihood that they will be pulled over. Black drivers in Mission Beach are 322 times more likely to be pulled over than the median traffic stop rate for drivers of their race throughout the entire county.
In one particular example, The San Diego Union Tribune detailed the story of an African American female lawyer who was followed by the police for no apparent reason from a memorial in Mission Beach for several miles before they stopped her for allegedly having the wrong license plates. She was placed in handcuffs in a patrol car while she persuaded them she owned the car. Would the police have stopped a white male for the same reason? That is one of the problems of racial bias whether conscious or not. Many preconceived notions about people of color seem to be factored into police contacts.
The problem doesn’t end with Black residents. The SDPD was more likely to use force on both Blacks and Latinos than Whites, while sheriff’s deputies were more likely to use force against Native Americans. Similarly, both residents are more likely to search Native Americans and Blacks than Whites, even though both groups are actually less likely to be carrying contraband.
Changes Already Implemented
It’s worth noting that some changes have already been made. The carotid restraint used on George Floyd has already been banned and deadly force can now only be used when absolutely necessary. While not yet finalized, the Police Commission is working on creating new policies regarding how they plan to handle protests, including when they can declare an unlawful assembly and when they can use non-lethal force such as rubber bullets.
On top of that, a new civilian-led commission now has oversight over the SDPD and can even issue subpoenas and conduct independent investigations. And the SDPD has also reconfigured their gang-supression team to avoid over-saturating certain neighborhoods with too many officers.
The Need to Eliminate Pretext Stops
The Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency (CPAT) (made up from members of groups such as Alliance San Diego, the San Diego ACLU, the Center on Policy Initiatives and more) has recently proposed an ordinance to prohibit police use of pretext stops, when police use a minor infraction such as a broken tail light as an excuse to stop and search vehicles, and consent searches, where police request to search a person’s property without any probable cause to do so. The law would require police to have a probable cause to stop and search drivers.
Reducing Police Department Biases Through Reduced Racial Disparities
Many also believe that racial biases in law enforcement agencies could be reduced if the demographics of the agencies themselves better reflected those of the communities they serve. Right now, the SDPD is 59% White, while the Sheriff’s Department is 54% White. Meanwhile, the county itself is only 42.5% White, meaning other minorities are drastically underrepresented in these agencies.
These disparities are reflected throughout most of the police forces in the city as well, with an average of 22% more whites on the force than in the local communities they are supposed to protect. Chula Vista, where Whites only make up 16.5% of the population has the worst representation of its local population, with a police force that is 52.7% White.
Overall, Hispanics and Asians are the least represented on police forces in San Diego. In fact, Coronado, with a population that is 75% White is home to the only police force in the county that has a lower portion of White people on the force than in the community. Coronado and Carlsbad are the only two cities with a police force that features a greater portion of Hispanic police officers than their relative portion of the population.
Right now, police departments are actively trying to reduce these racial disparities and eliminate the biases in their agencies. Hopefully this will help quite a bit in the future, but for right now, these problems are still very real.
Attorney Peter Liss believes that police are not perfect, but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve -and the same can be said about those who have been accused of crimes. If you have been arrested, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation.