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San Diego Has Fallen Behind On Combating Police Racial Profiling

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January 21, 2014 1:17 p.m.


William Lansdowne, San Diego Chief of Police

Shelley Zimmerman, Asst. Chief of Police, San Diego

Gabriela Rivera, Attorney, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

Liam Dillon, Voice of San Diego

Related Story: San Diego Police To Overhaul Racial Profiling Data Efforts


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition concerns the San Diego Police Department policy on tracking racial profiling. After leading most of the nation and requiring data on traffic stops, the SDPD relaxed the policy in recent years and took the lost half million dollar lawsuit settlement against the department. And a high-profile stop and frisk lawsuit in New York City seeks to revive the SDPD policy of requiring offices to collect demographics every time they pull someone over. Recently Megan Burks and Liam Dillon analyzed why this policy went by the wayside, and whether the perception of racial profiling is widespread in San Diego communities. I would like to thank my guests, Chief William Lansdowne, Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman, Gabriela Rivera and Liam Dillon. Chief Lansdowne, when you worked in San Jose in the 1990s, you were among the first police chiefs to offer together racial data on people who were pulled over for traffic stops, why did you implement that policy in the first place?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: Well the NAACP was very concerned about affect racial profiling and asked if I would do that, and I said I would if you they wanted the information it would be provided as long as you want.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the San Diego Police Department was also an early adopter of the policy to track data on traffic's stops before he became please chief, why did the policy slack off over the years? Figured they had the

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We tracked the information but there was no request for the information and it fell by the wayside. Now that it is an issue again, because we are very concerned about doing that jump right in preventing racial profiling, we're meeting with information with organizations right now to get in input for a new system, not the old system that we have used in 2001.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you are trying to come up with a different way to track traffic stops?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We are going to different organizations to get their input so they can help us craft the type of information that they get. We have to build that system from scratch.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Liam, in the articles you wrote about how the policy fell by the wayside, what kind of data was the San Diego Police Department collecting at staff traffic stops and how much?

LIAM DILLON: They were tracking racial information at the stop and and other demographic information whether people were searched and that was all on the form. Not every time they arrested but since every time they made a stop. By our best estimates they were not following the policy, less than a fifth of the time of the stops the court officers were asked to question data, so it's good to hear that there is a new policy in the works and development to address all of this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Mr. Lansdowne, you have told us one of the reasons that you stopped tracking traffic stops is because no one demanded or wanted to analyze the information, and I'm wondering since this is sort of a standard policy is this sufficient reason to pull back on tracking traffic stops?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We did not pull back, the system is just old and antiquated. We are doing it by hand while other people are doing it by computer, we need a better system to do that. I belong to Major City Chiefs which covers sixty-two cities in America. I am very familiar with the tracking systems most of them have. Most that have it seem to have it mandated and they do it as part of state policy, ours is not mandated there was no request for that information for eight years. It languished, and now we are putting it back together.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Was that the reason for the member memo that you sent out in October that basically reiterated that it is department policy to get information on every traffic stop?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: I put it out several times and it is clear to us that the system we have is not capable of managing the information by hand, we have to use technology currently available to better track information. And we will do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it your perception that racial profiling is not a problem in San Diego?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: I never said that, I do not know where that is coming from.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: No, I am just asking.

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: I think there is a perception because he go to so many cities of San Diego and is very difficult to get definitive information about specific instance of what occurs. Some tracking lost to that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What has your reporting revealed about reception and incidences of racial profiling in San Diego?

LIAM DILLON: The conversation that we have had have indicated that we go to community meetings but we don't really care it is a concern so again it's good to hear that the police are saying that is something they do believe is a concern, whether in meetings or other places. We have heard from a lot of community members that they have instance incidences where they believe of from profiling issue has occurred. That being said it is something that is very difficult to prove, and difficult to understand whether incident and what they perceive one way, when that is not the intent of the officer but that is something again to always be mindful of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And in your report, you talked to us every several high-profile San Diegans about their perceptions and even their experiences when it comes to racial profiling traffic stops?

LIAM DILLON: Yes, a Detective Sergeant believes that he was racially profiled and that was twenty years ago, he believes that it still exists and still happens now. The head of the NAACP has also talked about the experience involving a nephew who was pulled over in a traffic stop, and City Councilman David Alvarez believes that the same thing that happened to him and really happens all over San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gabriela, I know that the ACLU called to know your rights meetings regularly in San Diego.

GABRIELA RIVERA: Every male that we interactively interview in San Diego has had some sort of interaction with the San Diego Police Department, and many of these interactions have been negative and most of these individuals we have spoken with feel that these internet interactions were initiated because of the color of their skin. If heard about an number of different negative police interactions, and we work with the community member who was surprised to learn that individuals who were pulled over outside of their neighborhoods, know that they are not pulled out of their car are not made to sit on the curb for routine traffic stop. That was his reality. For every police interaction. We have also spoken to children ages 12 to 13 years old and where that have been stopped by police officers officers while walking home from school, and asked why you're walking in a group and if you're in a gang? The complaints that we have received have been really varied.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are these the types of things that you have been hearing in the community meetings that you go to?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We get a lot of praise about the San Diego Police Department in different meetings, and I would suggest and hope that if they get a complaint like that to bring it to us because we can go back and with something like that to the daytime in place and we can actually investigate that, to find out if there was racial profiling taking place, but it's difficult to what you can't check on it.

SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: And our department conducts training to reinforce tactics as philosophies, so we constantly look for the best actresses and we are in 100% compliance is first training and mandated standards and regarding racial profiling training, we also looking at effective to medication and we recently had a virtual ride lot where people were telling us, they were surprised to learn that the volume of calls and how fast a pace that is, and we're looking to reinforce that extra few seconds or minutes to explain to the individual why we stopped them, that extra communication will go along way in dispelling some of this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a sound bite that was gathered and this is from engineering student about racial profiling.


NEW SPEAKER: Is not the usually for your license and registration, it's usually for are you from this gang? Are you on probation? Are you carrying a weapon? Do you have drugs in your car? Before I even get asked for my license.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: They have to comply with the orders and instructions from policemen, correct?

GABRIELA RIVERA: Absolutely. And we have been giving these sprites hesitations in response to committee replant worse quest, requests, the committee was be informed about the interactions with police. The feel if they feel that they have been forced to take up defensive posture instead of going on the offenses, we're trying to figure out what they can do to solve some of these problems. They've even been said that they've been forced into the position that they just want to come for the article. When they have interaction with a lease officer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the complaints that you are here quite often they are working on, is that officers routinely ask if someone is on probation or parole, but as the department doing about that?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We sat down with the ACLU and they want to a craft new policy to prevent that from occurring and I we're working very hard to get that done. Next time take me to the meeting and we will talk to those people and let them talk to me.

GABRIELA RIVERA: I think that will be a much more effective way to gauge what the committee concerns are. As opposed to operating in something like an echo chamber where you are only hearing complimentary feedback as opposed to maybe a more critical feedback that might actually help us move ahead and figure out new solutions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One thing that comes to mind is that both of you to attend community meetings, how is it that this protect particular complaint has fallen under the radar, why is it that you need to find out about this now instead of having known about it before?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: It's never fallen under the radar, we train for this every year and I will let Shelley talk about some of the training we do, but we're at 100% compliance with police Officer standards and training. We do that training necessary to stop that from occurring. If you have a problem you need to bring it to us and come to my office anytime.

LIAM DILLON: The question is if you believe that there is something happening in the community of the complaints that you're receiving that reflect that, why is there a gap? If you think that if something is happening, but the complaints are coming, where is that coming from?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: This is a great group to have together one place, we all need to work together and maybe we all should go to those meetings together. Let us hear that information and come to us that we can craft solutions that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Liam, you have spoken with criminal justice experts preparing this report, what can be said about the efficacy and the importance of collecting this kind of data?

LIAM DILLON: It is something considered the best practice do but not a panacea. There may be disparities between certain racial groups, but not easy to prove that it means anything, there can be good reasons for disparity. They caught it is compensated and New York City shows the promise of this, in the sense that the data is actually the reason that the stop was thrown out. A lengthy data analysis that showed that, that is a two-year process to figure out and analyze data that New York City had to sort of shell and prove that there was racial bias going on, and that is something that is contested in experts. They can be a good indicator for police but it's very hard to have it as a panacea cure-all.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: With the San Diego Police Department was gathering traffic and racial data on every stop, when the first initiated new policy in 2001 to 2002, what did that data show?

LIAM DILLON: A show that there are some disparities but it did not show that there is a racial bias. For instance, you can have certain criminal suspects being of a certain race, and that race could be pulled over more frequently than others, that was seen as kind of a something that you have to work through to see whether disparities in issue or whether he goes as far as biased.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Chief Lansdowne, as you say you are a member of the police chiefs association nationally, and I'm wondering and you see that they are collecting this data in different ways and not just the handwritten data that a lot of officers have been doing, what are you doing? Why can we do that?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We are going to do it we have set in and take a look at the system and we've got to rebuild the information, we need to do it as a community together.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do we need new technology?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: Our system is twenty-five years old. Unfortunately the only person we can find to work on it is my age.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is that because of the cuts that the technology has languished?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: No, it's because it's very expensive to replace the system but I will have Chief Zimmerman talk about that.

SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: We have a commitment from our city council to rebuild our computer aided dispatch, our CAD system. We will be able to receive and retrieve so much more data which will help us on so many different areas and not just this but other areas that will be able to be a lot more effective.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To Gabriella, if the data is collected by the SDPD or more frequent use showing and the data shows that racial profiling is not happening with any regularity, do think that will change perceptions in certain communities in San Diego?

GABRIELA RIVERA: Not sure if it would, if things continue the way they are. There is racial profiling and there's this perception that we have already discussed. Individuals pulled over and being asked are you on probation or parole? And children being stopped on the way home from school and asked if they are in a gang. I don't know if data itself would be enough to confront the perception, it would take a new policy change in that is why data is only one tool among many to promote effective community policing.

SHELLEY ZIMMERMAN: That is why so important for us to go to committee meetings in the perception is out there that is what we're talking about the training is for continued with an effective communication to take that extra few seconds to explain why that stopped.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question to you, how long will you be collecting this data and would you plan to do with it?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: We're going to make it public and take a look at it and make decisions on if we believe that there is room for profiling how we will fix it and we will change our training, and be able to do that and how long are we going to take that? As long as people want the information, then I have to get the information out here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How will you know if people want the information or not? What is your criteria for that?

WILLIAM LANSDOWNE: I've never found any of the organizations that idea with. They have been shy about asking for information that they want, but I'm just not hearing it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well we will see what people hear in the future. I want to thank you so much, Chief William Lansdowne and Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman. Also I would like to thank Gabriela Rivera and Liam Dillon, thank you very much.