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Study shows deputy use of force on Black people four times more than on whites

The door of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in Kearny Mesa, Dec. 31, 2014.
Tarryn Mento
The door of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in Kearny Mesa, Dec. 31, 2014.

Use of force by San Diego County Sheriff's Department personnel involved Black citizens four times as often as white ones over a five-year period ending last year, even though the latter demographic is nearly 10 times more represented within the local population, according to a study released Thursday.

The analysis by the Yale University-based Center for Policing Equity, which evaluated field data recorded between 2016 and 2020, found that 18% of the regional law enforcement agency's use-of-force incidents over the period were directed toward Black people, who comprised 4.9% of the region's population.

RELATED: Officers still shoot at cars even as police departments call it a dangerous decision


The authors of the study made those findings using a statistical technique known as "regression analysis" to account for the influence of particular crime rates, poverty levels and percentages of Black residents in various neighborhoods, the document states.

By comparison, white residents, who made up 48% of the county population during the study period, were the subjects of 44% of the department's use-of-force incidents, while Hispanics, who comprised 35% of the area citizenry, were involved in 32% of them, according to the CPE study.

RELATED: San Diego Police use force most often in neighborhoods south of Interstate 8

The report defines law enforcement use of force as incidents in which a peace officer employs their body or an object in an encounter with a member of the public to compel compliance, or in a way that could cause pain, injury or death.

Such measures include firearms — either pointed or discharged — and electric stuns guns, service dogs, chemical irritants, neck restraints and other so-called "holds," beanbag and "pepper ball" guns, bodily "takedowns" and hand strikes and kicks, the CPE document states.


The center's statistical analysis showed that neighborhood crime rates, poverty and share of Black residents accounted for 48% of the frequency of use of force on the part of sheriff's personnel over the period, while 52% was not explained by those factors, according to the report.

In response to the findings, officials with the sheriff's department acknowledged that their use-of-force numbers as reflected in the study "may appear higher than other agencies in the national database," but stated that they "believe this is because we have always been more proactive in reporting (such) incidents."

By way of example, the agency asserted in a prepared statement that it reports as use of force the application of a "spit sock" — a mesh hood placed over a detainee's head to reduce possible transmission of saliva or blood.

"We also report the pointing of a firearm or less-lethal weapon as force used," the department stated. "This is often referred to as a `show of force' by other agencies, while some agencies do not report it at all."

Moreover, the CPE study "did not account for the complexities of a large agency," according to sheriff's officials.

"A police department is responsible for one city or community," the department statement notes. "In contrast, the sheriff's department is responsible for 4,200 square miles of unincorporated areas across the county, as well as nine contract cities."

Sheriff's officials additionally pointed out that the CPE analysis includes data on use-of-force incidents at the seven county detention centers in the San Diego area, which are run by the regional law enforcement agency.

"The demographics of our jail population consists of individuals arrested by nearly two dozen agencies in the county, not strictly (those from) the jurisdictions we serve or those used for comparison data," sheriff's officials asserted.

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