Study: SDPD’s Racial Bias is Undisputed and Ineffective

by on December 12, 2016 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, Politics, San Diego

By Martha Sullivan, of Women Occupy San Diego / San Diego Free Press

Photo by MSVG racial bias

Photo by MSVG

The afternoon before Thanksgiving, the San Diego Mayor’s Office released a long-awaited report on racial bias in traffic stops by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) prepared by San Diego State University (SDSU) under contract to the Mayor’s Office.

There has been much news about the delay by the Mayor’s Office in releasing this study, as well as that office’s use of the well-worn tactic to release bad news on the eve of a major holiday.

As San Diego Councilmember Todd Gloria pointed out in the Council’s Public Safety & Livable Neighborhood Committee’s hearing on this report last week, the Mayor’s handling of this study on racial bias in San Diego policing has only deepened the mistrust of the Mayor and his Administration among community members who have experienced such racial bias throughout their lives, but whose experiences have not been validated by the Mayor or his management team.

There has also been much news in the past two weeks about the findings of this report, which are elegantly summarized in its Executive Summary:

“First, data on the SDPD’s stop and post-stop enforcement patterns show meaningful differences in the treatment of Black and Hispanic drivers, as compared to Whites.

“Second, these disparities, which match the perceptions of some members of San Diego’s minority communities, contribute to a recognized tension between these communities and the SDPD.” (1)

Far less reported is a key finding in the SDSU report that the SDPD under Mayor Faulconer has its priorities wrong in terms of how it deploys its resources to identify criminal activity.

The SDSU report makes the point that traffic stops as a tool to do so is very inefficient and ineffective: less than 1 out of 260 traffic stops found contraband, and that African-American and Latino drivers were far less likely to be found with contraband – although 3 and 2 times, respectively, more likely to be searched than white drivers. The SDSU report also found that only 1.3% of the traffic stops resulted in an arrest. (2)

In stark contrast, the SDPD under Mayor Faulconer fails to deploy resources to investigate sexual assaults sufficient to prosecute them. The latter is also a function of bias – most sexual assault is against girls and women. (3)

An SDPD Assistant Chief recently reported to the City Council’s Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods Committee that in Fiscal Year 2015-16, the SDPD referred only 4% of almost 800 reports of sexual assault to the District Attorney or City Attorney for the filing of charges (felony or misdemeanor).

The Mayor and the SDPD under his management continue to refuse to test all rapekits, with 2,800+ in SDPD property lockers. Other large jurisdictions, including Alameda and Sacramento Counties, have changed practice to test all rapekits and upload the test results to a national DNA database, which has resulted in serial criminals being prosecuted.

So – the SDPD’s now undisputed racial bias keeps a disproportionate amount of its resources focused on activity which identifies very little criminal activity, while violating the constitutional rights of San Diego residents.

At the same time, the existence of rape culture within the SDPD is manifested in its failure to investigate reports of sexual assault and pursue serial sexual criminals. It has been reported in two gender discrimination lawsuits against the City/SDPD that “male officers working in the sex-crimes division were said to have hung up inappropriate photos of women inside their cubicles and often joked about drugging women.” (4) Drugging victims is a well-publicized method in sexual assault.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and SDPD Chief Shelly Zimmerman need to set priorities for SDPD detectives and officers to HELP the victims of crime by investigating reported crimes, not CREATE victims of bias through unfounded assumptions and stereotypes proven to be ineffective in uncovering criminal activity. AND they need to hold SDPD detectives, officers and management accountable for complying with policies and procedures in order to make such priorities REAL.

Last month, Measure G passed by 82% — the highest of any proposition on the November ballot — with Mayor Faulconer, CM Cole and outgoing CM Gloria promising in the Ballot Argument For the Measure:


Mayor Faulconer and the incoming City Council now have joint authority over the now-renamed “Community Review Board on Police Practices” – and they have a mandate to deliver on the promise made in their Argument in Favor of Measure G. To do so, they MUST provide the CRB with the same resources and powers supplied to the City’s Ethics Commission: Independent Investigators, Independent Legal Counsel and Subpoena Power.

Holding SDPD officers and their leadership accountable and doing it transparently – in the same way that residents are held accountable to comply with laws and regulations — IS the way to build trust between ALL San Diego residents and the police department charged to protect and serve them. It’s quite simple, really.

The full study can be found here.

(1) At p. V

(2) At p. 79-80

(3) violence

(4) settlements-sdpd- harassment- cases/

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