San Diego Police Department

SDPD Uses Force on Black Suspects 8 Times More Often Than Other Races

NBC 7 Investigates looked at use of force reports from 2017 through 2019 and found major disparities.

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Police officers in the city of San Diego are eight times more likely to use force on Black suspects than they are on Whites or Hispanics, according to police records analyzed by NBC 7 Investigates. 

From 2017 through 2019, San Diego police officers used force on 18,296 occasions when arresting criminal suspects. Of those use of force incidents reported to police headquarters, 28% involved Blacks, a large percentage considering they make up 6.5% of the city’s total population, according to the city of San Diego.

When factoring in population, the use of force numbers reveal a major disparity according to race.

The data shows that from 2017 through 2020 police used force on an average of 17 Black residents per 1,000 people. For White residents, however, that number is just under 3 out of 1,000 people while Hispanics are slightly higher with nearly 4 out of 1,000.

NBC 7 received the records after filing a request under the California Public Records Act. 

The disparity of use of force numbers is only part of a much larger story. 

In December of last year, NBC 7 Investigates discovered that Blacks were six times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than their White and Hispanic counterparts. 

Cheryl Phillips is a professor at Stanford University. Phillips co-founded Stanford University’s Open Policing Project. Comprising a team of researchers and journalists, the Open-Policing Project studied over 100 million police stops nationwide and found that Black drivers are more than 20% more likely to get pulled over than Whites. Phillips says analyzing data is an important tool when looking at policing as a whole.

“It’s critical,” said Phillips during a June 15 interview. “We need to look at that. We need to look at what’s going on with arrest rates, use of force rates. Understanding the policing patterns that have led to these disparities so that we can encourage a change in policy, which I think is vital.”

Types of Force Used By Race

Added Phillips in regards to the data that she has analyzed, “Entire swaths of our population are being treated differently. Why should that be? That’s just not what we should be about.”

Phillips said that is where the data tells a large portion of what would be an untold story and what needs to happen as the story continues to unfold. “Being able to use this data to inform how people are being treated is vital. Otherwise we will not learn from the mistakes and shift the way we are handling any kind of policing.”

While not surprised by the disparity, some local experts are shocked to see the gap as wide as it is in San Diego.

“Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m super surprised although eight times is a little bit higher that some of the other studies I’ve seen,” said Daniel Orth with University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

“My initial reaction to numbers like that is one of obviously extreme concern. I think anytime you see disparities like that, it reflects major challenges to the way policing is being conducted and the way people are being treated.”

Orth said that although numbers such as disparities in use of force can further fracture the relationship between police and the communities they serve, they are also important in moving the discussion forward.

“Anytime you have real or even perceived disparities in how people are treated by law enforcement, that helps to fray the relationships that need to exist between communities and law enforcement,” said Orth. “But, I don’t think anybody can look at these numbers, and look at the pattern, and dismiss everything away.”

San Diego Police Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi said the department is making it a priority to “create and implement a separate de-escalation policy” to try and reduce use of force incidents across the board. 

Said Takeuchi, “In 2019, the San Diego Police Department received approximately 1.27 million calls from the community resulting in over 590,000 calls being dispatched to police officers. Force was used by a San Diego police officer in less than 1% (.8%) of these encounters. Our department defines force as the act of gaining and/or maintaining control of a subject or situation.”

Takeuchi confirmed the numbers used by NBC 7 Investigates and said that the data in 2019 shows that Black suspects accounted for 23% of arrests, whereas 28% were of Hispanic descent and 42% were White or Caucasian. 

Those figures do not factor in population differences.

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