As the issue of police racial profiling becomes a point of national scrutiny, the San Diego Police chief addressed concerns in her jurisdiction this week, encouraging potential victims to come forward.
The problem was again thrust into the spotlight after unarmed black teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Outrage over the death has prompted days of riots and unrest, and the situation has devolved into a “powder keg,” the police chief there says.
SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman discussed her department’s racial profiling policies in a public service announcement published to YouTube on Aug. 11, two days after Brown was shot.
"The San Diego Police Department does not and will not tolerate any racial profiling or discourteous treatment by any of our officers or our employees,” said Zimmerman. “If you feel there is a problem, we want to know about it.”
The video lists ways a victim can report racial profiling by an SDPD officer. Included in the options are calling a supervisor to the scene, talking with the SDPD’s internal affairs, reporting the incident to the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices or calling the confidential hotline at 619-531-2672.
If a victim does not want to give a name, the department requests he or she provide the incident’s place, date and time, the SDPD officer or employee’s name and badge number and a description of what happened.
The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association – which advocates for Latino rights – and the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association – which represents African- American rights – worked together to create and sponsor the PSA.
It was sparked by some in the San Diego community who distrust the police department because of racial profiling.
Victor Torres, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney with La Raza, said he experienced profiling growing up in National City, and now he's concerned about his children.
“What I worry about is they'll be coming into contact with a policeman who has a different idea of who they are based on the color of their skin," Torres told NBC 7.
In January, the SDPD announced it will start tracking traffic stops again to see where racial profiling is an issue, determining what percentage of certain minorities are being pulled over versus others. The department also issued body cameras for its officers to help prevent problems.
Police statistics from this year show black and Hispanic drivers are pulled over disproportionately, according to Torres.
“When you look at the numbers and extrapolate them out, what the numbers tell you is that out of thousands of drivers, they’re being stopped for no good reason every year,” he said.'
Omar Passons, president of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, said the anonymous number is a way to help hold officers accountable for any profiling that may happen.
“In the end, this is about taking a proactive step so we don’t have a Mike Brown moment where another kid gets gunned down needlessly," he said.