US Federal Government Steps In to Improve San Diego Police Interactions with Citizens

It’s difficult to turn on the news today without hearing reports of racial profiling somewhere in the United States, and recently the San Diego Police Department has been plagued with allegations from community activists about profiling in traffic stops. Recent statistics showed that Latino and black drivers were pulled over more often than white drivers, and even more surprisingly–their vehicles were searched more often as well. Slightly over 30% of the 144,164 traffic stops in 2014 were of Latino drivers, with African American drivers representing slightly over 10%–however, the census data tells a different story about proportions of the population in each of those demographic groups. While the Latino drivers were only off from the census percentage by a few points, the African American population was significantly different, with 5.5% of adults shown to be black via the census findings, however they represented 11.2% of all traffic stops–nearly double the percentage by population that should have been stopped.

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External Review Recommended

While Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman notes that historically it can be difficult to build a true case for or against racial profiling based on census data, others are not convinced and have called for an external review and possibly even an academic study of the behavior of the officers. Discretionary search numbers were even more troubling, with 40% of the searches being of Latino vehicles and 23.4% African American. Faculty members at San Diego State University are in continued conversation about what a study may look like and how it would be executed faithfully, while investigations into officer misconduct and the transparency that should be involved in police departments is ongoing. Ultimately, when police misconduct is alleged, not only odes it harm the relationship between the community and the law enforcement, but it can directly affect the taxpayers pocketbook, in that lawsuits against the police can be left to the taxpayers to foot the bill in certain instances.

Is Census Data Reflecting Reality?

Chief Shelley Zimmerman pledges to working with the community to build trust and has gone as far as creating a public service announcement to let drivers know to speak up if they feel as though they’ve been unfairly treated. However, the concern remains that the large number of undocumented immigrants, members of the military and visitors are not included in the census numbers–making it incredibly difficult to compare census numbers to the number and percentages of individual ethnicities that are pulled over for routine traffic stops and then subjected to a vehicular search. She notes that getting an accurate picture of the population of drivers can be challenging and welcomes input from external researchers into the issue.

Ongoing Government Support for San Diego’s Police

The government completed an exhaustive review of San Diego’s police department and stated that in general, the department remains “progressive, sound and very effective” overall. However, the reform that was started under the previous police chief is being continued by increased and more rigorous officer background checks as well as in-depth citizen complaint reviews and additional layers of supervision in the ranks of officers. However, there are failures noted in the previous levels of supervision that may have allowed officers to go without the necessary oversight that could have curbed some of the citizen complaints.

Significant Changes in Store

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One example of a change being discussed is the amount of supervision of officers might change. While previous acting sergeants may only see each officer once a week that is one of the policies that is under consideration for more regular contact by Zimmerman and her staff. More than ten years of budget cuts, hiring constraints, and low morale between officers has led to negative consequences in interactions with the public. Additional levels of accountability are planned and are in the process of being implemented as budget constraints are raised and as funding is approved. Zimmerman and her staff are fully committed to looking for additional measures to build trust within the community as well as create a feeling of transparency around the issues with the San Diego Police Department.

Many of the government’s recommendations have already been taken by the leaders of the San Diego Police Department while others are only waiting on the appropriate approvals and funding in order to get them on par with government recommendations. Additional studies were inconclusive about whether racial profiling truly exists within the department, but the public stance is an ongoing community outreach and reform efforts within the organization.