San Diego Police Department

Spike in Racial Profiling Complaints to San Diego Police Department

NBC 7 Investigates found an increase in racial profiling complaints made to police

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Reports of racial profiling by San Diego Police officers have increased since 2016, according to police documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates. 

And while more complaints were submitted in recent years, data shows that the San Diego Police Department sustains a small proportion of them. Meanwhile, the vast majority of racial profiling complaints to police are either classified as unfounded or remain pending an investigation. 

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis, critics of traditional policing have voiced concerns about implicit biases inside law enforcement agencies nationwide, with racial profiling as evidence of its existence.

In San Diego, police officers follow a protocol after receiving a complaint of racial profiling. The department, according to internal documents that the department provided, forwards all citizen complaints to the city’s Police Chief, Internal Affairs, the Mayor, as well as to the Community Review Board on Police Practices.

To read the department’s procedures for investigating these kinds of complaints, click here.

The complaints are also reported each year to the state's Department of Justice.

The complaint, according to SDPD policy, is then investigated by Internal Affairs. If police misconduct occurred, the investigator forwards the complaint to the assistant chief for disciplinary action. Police provide the Community Review Board with all determinations, regardless of merit.

And while the race of the complainant was not revealed in the data, NBC 7 Investigates has found other racial disparities in use of force complaints as well at the prosecutorial level by the City Attorney’s Office.

In terms of use of force, San Diego Police Department data reveals that officers used force against Black suspects eight times more frequently than they did with White and Hispanic suspects. 

As for prosecutorial disparities, NBC 7 analyzed minor drug-related prosecutions since 2013 and found that Black suspects are five times more likely to be prosecuted for misdemeanor drug offenses than White or Hispanic suspects.

Dr. Jack Glaser is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Glaser’s primary research focus is stereotyping and discrimination in law enforcement. 

Glaser has studied racial pretexts in police stops and police searches and has found commonalities in law enforcement agencies throughout the country. 

“Police officers have a tremendous amount of discretion in what they can do in their jobs,” Glaser told NBC 7. “What we see in the data over and over again is that those stops are disproportionately people of color, particularly black men. One of the most interesting things is that Whites who are searched are more likely to yield contraband and weapons than Black or Latino people, which strongly suggests that Whites meet a higher threshold of suspiciousness in order to get searched in the first place. And that's a very strong indicator that there is racial bias influencing these decisions.”

In terms of racial profiling in law enforcement, Glaser says implicit bias as well as local policies provide some explanations for implicit bias in policing. 

“You hear about hotspot policing. Where our police officers flood the zone in neighborhoods that have reported a lot of crime," he said. "What ends up happening is that because crime is higher and low in lower-income neighborhoods, and because people of color are more likely to live in those neighborhoods, officers are policing in a disproportionate way.”

And even for those alleged victims of racial profiling, Glaser says oftentimes police departments are tasked with deciding if the complaints have merit. 

“In many cases, it’s the fox guarding the fox house,” Glaser said. “It's really a lot to ask for people to police themselves. That's why we have police.”

That said, Glaser said the uptick could be explained by a more streamlined policy within the police department, or more public awareness. Despite the reason, the outcomes of many profiling complaints are similar, whether that is in San Diego or across the nation. 

“What you see in San Diego and across the nation is that racial profiling complaints almost never get sustained,” Glaser said. “Much more often than not the complaints are deemed unfounded or pending and they just die on the shelf.”

A spokesperson for the department was unable to comment directly on the increase in racial profiling reports but confirmed to NBC 7 that all complaints are reviewed by the Community Review Board.

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