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Lansdowne Proposes Body Cameras To Help Combat Racial Profiling

Above: Mario Lewis, owner of Imperial Barbershop in Encanto, told the committee and Chief Lansdowne racial profiling is an issue in San Diego. "Right now the community does not trust you, period,” he said.

Aired 1/30/14 on KPBS News.

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne heard from community members who said they've been racially profiled and proposed sweeping changes to address their concerns.

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Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Kellen Russoniello, a fellow with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, joined representatives from San Diego's black, Latino and Asian communities at a public safety committee hearing on police racial profiling.

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne Wednesday proposed sweeping changes in the way his department combats racial profiling. He asked the City Council's public safety committee for up to $200,000 to test body cameras – often called cop cams or lapel cameras – on 100 officers. A full roll-out of the technology could cost $2 million annually.

The proposal comes after a recent KPBS and Voice of San Diego investigation revealed the department's efforts to collect racial data at traffic stops had slackened. At the time Lansdowne said he hadn't enforced the data policy because the community hadn't asked for it.

The request was made loud and clear Wednesday. Nearly 30 community members told Lansdowne and the committee they believe they or people they know have been racially profiled by San Diego police officers.

Many praised Lansdowne for his renewed attention to the issue. Lansdowne reinforced the department's data policy in a memo last fall and told KPBS Midday Edition last week he would overhaul the computer system that logs the information.

But the speakers urged for meaningful change in the way officers conduct business. Many said officers are too quick to ask young minorities whether they're on probation or a member of a gang.

"All of our young people are not gang members. It's a small amount that create bad. And I know it's not all the police officers," said Nation of Islam Minister Hugh Muhammad. "But just like we want to deal with the young ones creating the problems, we expect the police department to deal with those that are creating that problem."

Assistant Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman told the committee the department is in full compliance with diversity training standards. Lansdowne earlier said he receives few formal racial profiling complaints and that none were sustained in recent years.

But he said he would work with the local NAACP and ACLU to improve the department's data policy and make the information public after six months.

In response to requests from the crowd and committee chair Marti Emerald, Lansdowne said he would explore whether officers can log the data for pedestrian stops, as well as traffic stops. And he agreed to attend town hall meetings in southeastern San Diego at the request of Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, who called for Wednesday's hearing.

"We will do those things necessary to make sure this community understands how much we care about them," Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne is expected to report back to the committee in April.

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