How Many Studies Do We Need that Show Racial Bias in Stops By San Diego Police?

by on January 25, 2022 · 7 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego

As the trial begins for three former Minneapolis Police officers who helped Derek Chauvin restrain George Floyd in May 2020, San Diegans can use the trial as a mirror to hold up and examine our own city’s legacy in police stops of African-Americans. And that legacy ain’t pretty – but we knew that because of all the reports and studies that have been made on racial disparities in San Diego police stops.

There have been many recent studies, and here’s a report on them by local media. A report of the studies, the many studies. The many, many studies.

In fact, how many studies do we need?

Recently, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a report based on a statistical analysis of reported crimes and San Diego Police stops officers made from 2019 through June 2021. It found:

Overall, police conducted more traffic and pedestrian stops per reported crime in areas where non-Whites make up the majority of the population.

The report stated:

Data show San Diego police conducted some 344,400 stops — involving 398,100 people — within the city from January 2019 through June of last year.

About 42 percent of the people stopped were White, 30 percent were Latino, 20 percent were Black and 5 percent were Asian. By comparison, 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data show San Diego’s population is 41 percent White, 30 percent Latino, 6 percent Black and 18 percent Asian.

The Register-Herald, republishing a SDU-T article, reported in late December 2021 about another study about San Diego police and use-of-force incidents between 2017 and 2019.

Despite making up only 6 percent of the city’s population, Black people account for nearly 25 percent of the individuals San Diego Police officers use force against.

The finding stems from a new analysis by Accountability Now, a policing project launched at the beginning of the year that is working to build a national, publicly accessible database on police use of force. …

The group looked at nearly 11,000 use-of-force incidents involving nearly 12,000 people reported between 2017 and 2019. During each of those years, Black people accounted for nearly 25% of those who experienced force at the hands of police. …

The Accountability Now report mirrors the findings of several recent studies of San Diego police stops, including a recent report produced by the Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit that uses data to help police agencies identify and eliminate bias.

The Center for Policing Equity study found that even after accounting for factors like neighborhood characteristics, poverty and crime rates, Black people were nearly five times more likely to be subjected to violence by police than white people.

“When racial disparities are present even when the influence of these neighborhood-level factors is removed from the equation, it suggests officer behavior, or department policy or practices, are likely to be playing a role,” the report read.

In mid-June of last year, Voice of San Diego reported on “yet another report shows San Diego police treat people of color differently” by the Center for Policing Equity. This report covered SDPD data from 2017 to 2020.

A long-awaited analysis of San Diego Police Department data, conducted by an outside think tank, was released Thursday and offers a familiar picture of the disparities that people of color face when encountering law enforcement. …

After accounting for external factors, the new report found that Black people experience non-traffic stops 4.2 times more often as White people and were subjected to force 4.8 times as often as White people. During non-traffic stops, Asian and Latino people were searched 1.4 times as often as White people. Black and Latino people were also more likely to be searched during traffic stops, and Latino people were subjected to force 1.2 times as often as White people.

Here’s the report by the Center for Policing Equity.

KPBS also reported on the study:

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.

There are so many reports about San Diego police and their disparities, that the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board took a stand on April 21, 2021:

Locally, the San Diego Police Department has some reflection of its own to do in the wake of a damning analysis of the racial breakdown of traffic and pedestrian stops. Lyndsay Winkley and Lauryn Schroeder of The San Diego Union-Tribune published their investigation into nearly 500,000 stops by the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department the day before Chauvin’s trial began. It’s just the latest study to show that Black people — and, to varying degrees, other people of color — are stopped, searched and arrested at higher rates than White people. The journalists report that Black people across California were stopped at more than twice their share of the population in 2019, according to state data.

They also found that Black San Diegans make up 6 percent of the city’s population yet accounted for nearly 20 percent of the traffic stops by San Diego police between July 2018 and December 2020. And that SDPD was also more likely to use force on minority groups, including Black and Latino people, than on White residents, and sheriff’s deputies were more likely to use force on Native Americans.

In early April of last year, a commentary in the PB Monthly discussed another report by the 2020 Campaign Zero, with the commentary focused especially on racial disparities at the beach.

According to the 2020 Campaign Zero report, Evaluating Policing in San Diego, from 2018 to 2019 San Diego Police stopped Black people at 219% higher rate per population than white people. Once stopped, Black people were also 25% more likely to be searched and 59% more likely to have force used against them, according to the report.

The Black stop rate in Pacific Beach is 4.4 times higher than the Black stop rate in the Morena district, which is used as the median in the report. What’s truly stunning is the Mission Beach Black stop rate which is 322 times higher than the median. In Mission Beach, where 3,617 people live, 3,914 total stops occurred from 2018 to 2019. In Pacific Beach, where 48,467 people live, 11,736 people in total were stopped during that time.

Pacific Beach is second to East Village (13,698 total stops) with Midway District coming in third (6,846 total stops). PB has far more stops overall than most neighborhoods in San Diego.

Campaign Zero was launched by the ACLU. Here’s what they have to say about the study and report:

Recently, our office commissioned a report by Campaign Zero that looked at data from the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and analyzed it for racial and identity disparities.

Here is what the report found:

The San Diego Police Department (SDPD):

Stopped Black people at a 219 percent higher rate than white people. In 85 percent of SDPD beats, Black people were stopped at higher rates than white people.
Was 23 percent more likely to conduct consent searches on Black people than white people, despite being less likely to be found with contraband than white people.
Was more likely to use force and even more severe forms of force against Black people than white people.
The story was not any better at the county level. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department:

Stopped Black people at a 130 percent higher rate than white people. In every area of jurisdiction, Black people were stopped at higher rates than white people.
Was 19 percent more likely to search people they perceived to be LGBTQ or gender non-conforming and 38 percent more likely to arrest them without a warrant compared to people who were not perceived to be LGBTQ or gender non-conforming. This disparity was particularly worse for the Black people in this demographic.
Used more severe levels of force against Black people and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Another study was conducted by an organization called Police Scorecard which looked at San Diego Police and Sheriff’s Departments 230,643 traffic and pedestrian stops from July 2018 – June 2019.

Our results show both departments to be engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing. Both departments stopped black people at a rate more than 2x higher than white people and were more likely to search, arrest, and use force against black people during a stop. Both departments not only use force more often but also use more severe forms of force against black people than other groups, even after controlling for arrest rates and alleged level of resistance.

We also found evidence of anti-Latinx bias, anti-LGBT bias and bias against people with disabilities in both departments’ search practices. Moreover, when communities report police discrimination or excessive force, fewer than 1% of these allegations were upheld.

San Diego Police and Sheriff’s Departments made 230,643 traffic and pedestrian stops from July 2018 – June 2019.

Both agencies stopped black people and Pacific Islanders at higher rates than white people. Black people were stopped by San Diego Sheriff’s deputies at a rate 130% higher than white people and were stopped by San Diego police at a rate 219% higher than white people. San Diego police made 35,038 stops of black people during a 12-month period in a city with a total of 88,774 black residents – an extreme level of policing impacting black San Diego residents. Black people were more likely than white people to be stopped in 85% of San Diego Police Department beats and in every area of San Diego Sheriff’s Department’s jurisdiction. Moreover, fewer than 15% of these stops were initiated from civilian calls for service (i.e 911 calls), indicating that these racial disparities are the product of police decision-making rather than officers responding to community calls for assistance.

A study was made by a handful of academicians at San Diego State University of traffic stop data generated by San Diego Police Department officers in 2014 and 2015:

Results show that despite being subject to higher rates of discretionary and nondiscretionary searches, Black drivers were less likely to be found with contraband than matched Whites and were more than twice as likely to be subjected to a field interview where no citation is issued or arrest made. Black drivers were also more likely to face any type of search, as well as high-discretion consent searches, that end in neither citation nor arrest The article concludes with a discussion of the findings and a series of recommendations. …

These raw figures show that White drivers were nearly 4 times more likely to be stopped for either a moving or equipment violation (which we characterize as discretionary stops) than Black drivers. Conversely, Black drivers were searched at a rate of 8.97%, some more than 3 times that of Whites (2.65%). This disparity was more pronounced in the context of highly discretionary consent searches, where the search rate of Black drivers (1.67%) was 4.77 times that of White drivers (0.35%). 7.58% of Black drivers were subjected to a field interview, more than 6 times the field interview rate experienced by White drivers (1.24%).

Despite facing what appears to be a more aggressive enforcement regime, Blacks were less likely to be found with contraband than White drivers: 7.11% of searches
involving Black drivers led to a “hit” compared with the 10.54% hit rate for Whites.  Blacks were more likely to be arrested than Whites (1.69% and 1.10%, respectively), though the difference is not statistically significant. Finally, we note that 46.39% of Blacks were issued a citation following a discretionary stop, 20.2% lower than the 58.10 citation rate for White drivers.

And this is just a set of recent studies on SDPD. There’s been plenty of other ones over the years.

Hey, how about a study of the studies? What will we find?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Fitz January 26, 2022 at 7:32 am

I’m curious. The articles talk about police stops as if the police are not racially diverse, that every cop is white. But a quick search on the internet says that 41% of SDPD is made up of non-white officers.

That being said, if a black officer stops a black motorist, is that still counted as police targeting black drivers more often than white drivers?

If so, are the authors of the article insinuating that police culture indoctrinates minority officers into being biased in favor of white people by stopping white people less often?

I’m not picking a fight, I honestly want to know how these facts are reconciled in their studies. Thank you.


Carl M Zanolli January 26, 2022 at 12:07 pm

What should we do with this information? Defund the police?


Frank Gormlie January 26, 2022 at 12:42 pm

There are efforts underway currently to make the SDPD reflect the community it serves. That’s a basic reform.


Carl M Zanolli January 26, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Yes, by all means. But my grave concern is some parties take it much farther and the reactionary forces grab hold and use it in local, state and national elections. That is most worrisome to me.


Frank Fitz January 27, 2022 at 7:57 am

It may surprise a lot of people but SDPD’s racial makeup matches the population percentage of the black community but is under represented by Asian and Hispanics.

I’d like to see data that compares crimes reported by neighborhood versus traffic stops per neighborhood. I suspect that they will be similar. And age surely must be a factor. I was stopped at least a couple of times a year when I was a young buck, but now that I’m old and grey I’m not much an interest to the cops.

“Demographic data released by the San Diego Police Department earlier this year showed the agency had about 8 percent fewer Asian American officers and 9 percent fewer Hispanic officers than the percentages reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census for San Diego. The percentage of black officers working for the department, however, nearly matched the percentage of black residents in the community.”


Frank Gormlie January 27, 2022 at 8:33 am

Thanks for filling in some gaps, but please don’t miss the main point here: Over time, despite SDPD becoming more “diverse”, traffic stops, arrests, searches and more demonstrate a racial bias especially towards Black citizens. Just because an officer may be a person of color, there’s an extreme police culture that captures even those.


sealintheselkirks January 29, 2022 at 1:30 pm

When one becomes a cop, you are no longer part of the ‘civilian’ population (which is generally used as a derogatory term). You are part of a government-sanctioned gang. That’s as good a term as any given the over-abundance of examples. As a friend said, it isn’t that racism and violence have suddenly gotten worse it’s that it now is being filmed because of so many cellphones. This has always been the reality.

Funny that grounds for expulsion from the police ‘academy’ can be as simple as you being too intelligent as that one court case showed.

I personally dislike the use of the term ‘academy’ for a short 3-month training program. That hardly seems to qualify as such when compared to a year or more to become a hairdresser, or 4 years at a university to become a teacher, or six years to earn a black belt. A mere 13 weeks and you get what privileges over everybody else? That would attract who?

So what kind of mentality is more acceptable? Authoritarian personality flaws seems to be a very common trait, yes? Yep Frank, agree that the culture, the indoctrination, is…very pervasive to say the very least.

Like the anti-vaccine/anti-mask crowd and Wbush’s famous quote; you are either with us or against us. But hey, torture and kidnapping has been legalized…oh excuse me I meant ‘enhanced interrogation’ and ‘rendition’ to a neutral country…so can we expect the low-level enforcers to be any different than the rest that the government hires?

Anybody else read about the Hitler Youth movement? Many parallels in this article:

Why Are D.C. Cops Recruiting And Deputizing High School Students?
And like the US military and it’s all-volunteer war machine, MPD is using one segment of the population with ‘perks’ as those signing up sees this as a way out of deliberate racist-imposed poverty. Divide and conquer keeps the status quo machine running and it always needs enforcers.

Frank Fitz: I wish I still had a link to that article by a 10-yr cop veteran expose that was published years ago. It really told the story from the inside that exactly answers your questions perfectly as he gave in and admitted to enjoying the brutality and camaraderie until he finally sickened of it. He somehow found a conscience.

It may be on the hard drive of my old computer as I just haven’t found the time to copy and transfer all the documents and pictures off it to this one yet. Can’t even remember the name dang it, but it explained quite succinctly why there are few if any minorities behind the blue line. They’re all just…cops. Or they get forced out. Pariahs don’t last in any tightly controlled group .



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