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Tessa Pierce Ward

NSF Postdoc in dib-lab at UC Davis

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We shouldn’t need statistics (or videos) to believe our fellow humans about their lived experiences. But sometimes data can highlight the glaring differences that exist.

In academia and beyond, we (particularly white folks) need to be more proactive in dismantling white supremacy. As a scientist who deals in data, I wanted to see if putting together data on policing in my local area could show folks just becoming aware of these issues that biased policing and police brutality are not new: they are constant and pervasive.

I went looking for policing data in San Diego: who was stopped, for what, if force was used, etc. I ended up finding that Samuel Sinyangwe of Campaign Zero had already done the analysis.

Here are a subset of their findings, followed by some proposed solutions.

tl;dr:

“Both the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department 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.”

“[There is also] evidence of anti-Latinx bias, anti-LGBT bias and bias against [disabled people].”

“When communities report police discrimination or excessive force, fewer than 1% of these allegations were upheld.”

Findings on police stops:

“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.”

“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.”

Findings on use of force:

“[Here, ‘use of force’] includes police use of batons, tasers, chemical agents, bean bag shotguns and potentially deadly tactics such as strangleholds against civilians.”

“San Diego police were more likely to use weapons and other types of force against Black People”

“On average, when SDPD uses force against black people they use a level of force 1.3x more severe than when using force against white people. For SDSD, it was a level of force 2.7x more severe.”

”[‘Severity’ is defined] … using a methodology developed by the Center for Policing Equity. More severe forms of force - like the use of tasers and canines - are assigned a higher score than less severe forms of force - like punches and kicks.”

Findings on search practices:

“In situations where police had the most discretion, they tended to engage in discriminatory search practices.”

“For example, San Diego police were 44% more likely to search Latinx people and 133% more likely to search black people than white people during a routine traffic stop - especially for equipment violations.”

“San Diego police were 23% more likely to search a black person and 60% more likely to search a Latinx person based solely on the consent of the person being searched - a type of search where officers have the most discretion.”

“People perceived to be [mentally disabled] experienced some of the most extreme search disparities - this group was 81% more likely to be searched by San Diego police and 112% more likely to be searched by San Diego sheriff’s deputies during a stop than people who were not perceived to [be disabled].”

For all this searching:

“77% of all searches by these departments did not report finding contraband. Moreover, the contraband these departments did report finding rarely posed a public safety risk justifying the use of this intrusive police tactic. Drugs or drug paraphernalia represented two-thirds of all contraband reportedly found while fewer than 1% of searches by either department reportedly found a gun.”

“While San Diego police and sheriff’s departments were more likely to search black and Latinx people during routine traffic stops, they were less likely to find contraband during these searches.”

I’ve focused on racial statistics above, but these intersect with other biases:

For example, “San Diego Police were more likely to search, arrest without warrant and use force against people the perceived to be LGBT or Gender Non-Conforming. Police were more likely to search these groups despite being less likely to find contraband as a result - an indicator of police bias. This anti-LGBT bias intersected with racial bias - black and Latinx people who police perceived to be LGBT experienced the highest search rates.”

“This suggests both departments are over-searching people in general, with little to no public safety benefit, while engaging in biased policing towards communities of color in particular.”

Police Militarization

The san diego scorecard doesn’t explicitly discuss militarizaton, but this article covers how militarization exacerbates the impact of biased policing.

Note - a bill (AB-3131) introduced by Assembly members Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to place checks on police militarization in California was vetoed in Sept 2018.

  • Californians: How does your city stack up? policescorecard.org
  • For links to research on body cams (spoiler: they don’t seem to reduce police violence), the impact of more restrictive policies and training programs for police, police union contracts, demilitarization, etc, see this twitter thread

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Proposed Solutions

Note: This is just the reported data, which is undoubtedly far from complete. First and foremost, we need to listen and believe people when they tell us about their experiences.

Whole-scale change

Smaller-scale reforms

Linked Resources

All credit to policescorecard.org for the scorecard analysis and text above.

San Diego Data links:

Police Scorecard:

  • Short summary and recommendations for SD Police here
  • Full executive summary for SD here

Raw data:

  • publicly available police stop data for san diego can be found here (~June 2018-present)
  • prior data (stored slightly differently) is linked from there