SDPD Traffic Stop Data Raises Concerns Over Racial Profiling

The San Diego Police Department has released traffic stop and search statistics for the first time in more than a decade, and the data is raising concerns for the ACLU over racial profiling.

The statistics, presented to the San Diego City Council public safety committee Wednesday, show that from January to December 2014, SDPD officers made 144,164 recorded traffic stops and searched 7,142 people.

The racial breakdown of those numbers shows Hispanic drivers made up 30.2 percent of traffic stops and 40.1 percent of searches, although they are 27 percent of the population, according to 2013 SANDAG statistics for people 15 and older.

African American drivers made up 11.2 percent of traffic stops and 23.4 percent of searches, and they comprise 5.5 percent of the San Diego population. Looking at the numbers, black and Hispanic people are stopped and searched at a higher rate than their proportion of the driving population.

Comparatively, 47.2 percent of the population is white, and 43 percent of 2014 traffic stops and 27.6 percent of searches were for white drivers. While Asians and other ethnicities comprise the remaining 20.2 percent of the population, police pulled over Asian drivers 15.6 percent of the time and searched them 8.8 percent of the time.

ACLU Policy Director Margaret Dooley-Sammuli said the SDPD fails to identify where the numbers are troubling and what they play learn from them.

“The rate of disproportion is so great, it’s not acceptable to throw up ones hands and say we can draw nothing from that,” Dooley-Sammuli said.

But the SDPD report says after its officers started collecting vehicle stop data in 2000, they began turning in data less and less. Fewer data entry staff and technical issues with the database also led to gaps in data.

While data collection efforts were revamped in 2013, the department does not have a reliable demographic benchmark, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said, “and analysis of exact comparisons continues to be difficult.”

“It cannot be determined with any confidence whether the data indicate any systemic patterns of bias in vehicle stops or searches,” the chief said. She released a PSA last August, encouraging victims of racial profiling to come forward.

Still, the ACLU’s concerns remain.

“Law enforcement does have an important role in preventing crime, but we need to make sure it’s targeted toward preventing crime and not just based on stereotype,” said Kellen Russoniello with the ACLU, “that if you enforce in certain communities, it will drive down crime, so we need to parse data and make sure we’re preventing crime and not just enforcing against communities of color and low income.”

Zimmerman also noted that although cities use the driver population as a comparison, this is a challenge for San Diego because of its proximity to the border. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 12 million vehicles crossed at the San Ysidro Border Port of Entry and 6.4 million vehicles crossed at Otay Mesa Port of Entry last year.

The SDPD report also broke down traffic stops based on the reason drivers were pulled over. See the infographic below for the top explanations.

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