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Racial Justice and Social Equity

Black San Diegans more likely to be stopped for biking, walking infractions

Editor's note: Have you been stopped for a walking or biking infraction? Share your story in the form at the end of this page. Your thoughts and experiences may be included in an upcoming story.

Black people are more than four times as likely as white people to be stopped for biking and walking infractions in San Diego, according to data from the San Diego Police Department.

In some neighborhoods such as Pacific Beach and Del Mar Heights, Black residents are 10 times more likely to be stopped. And the trend holds no matter where you are in the city — whiter and wealthier neighborhoods or historically redlined communities with higher Black populations.

Black and Latino residents are also more likely to receive harsher treatment after being stopped. Black and Latino people were handcuffed, searched, sat on the curb, or subjected to other further action more than half the time. That was not true of white and Asian people who were stopped.


These racial disparities in bike and pedestrian stops reflect a statewide trend. A state law passed last year prevents law enforcement officers from stopping pedestrians for infractions that don’t pose an imminent danger to others, but this doesn’t extend to cyclists.

The San Diego Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

William Rhatigan, former advocacy director for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, compiled a report using the police data.

He argued bike and pedestrian stops especially highlight racial bias because of how common they are — most people who walk and bike occasionally “jaywalk,” roll through stop signs, or ride bikes on the sidewalks or outside of bike lanes.

“This is where officers have the most discretion on who they stop and who they don't,” he said. “They might see 10 people jaywalk in a day. They choose to stop one person. Who is that person? If that person is Black four times as often, that really indicates you have a racial bias issue.”


Of the more than 11,300 stops made between July 2018 and the end of 2021, the majority were for not having a bike light, jaywalking and crossing against a “do not walk” sign. Some were for things Rhatigan didn’t even realize were infractions, like crossing during a crosswalk’s countdown timer or riding a bicycle with handlebars higher than your shoulders.

He said the stops also highlight an infrastructure issue.

Certain neighborhoods are more policed than others. Generally wealthier, whiter police beats north of Interstate 8 have lower bike and pedestrian stop rates than generally lower-income, less white police beats south of I-8. The highest stop rates are clustered in neighborhoods in Southeast San Diego and City Heights.

Rhatigan said things like incomplete sidewalks, no bike lanes, or bike lanes full of debris are barriers to following the law.

“(Police) might see 10 people jaywalk in a day. They choose to stop one person. Who is that person? If that person is Black four times as often, that really indicates you have a racial bias issue.”
William Rhatigan, former advocacy director for San Diego County Bicycle Coalition

“If a sidewalk ends mid-block, you can either walk in the middle of the street or you can jaywalk,” he said. “The safer thing to do there is jaywalk. If a bike lane suddenly ends and you’re in the middle of a four-lane street where cars are going 50 miles an hour, you’re going to ride in the sidewalk because it’s the safest thing to do.”

The city of San Diego holds property owners responsible for maintaining sidewalks in front of their property, a larger barrier in low-income neighborhoods than it is in wealthier neighborhoods.

Tickets for low-level infractions can also create an increasing cycle of late fees, fines and court dates for residents who don’t have the money to spare.

And the experiences of being handcuffed or held in the back of a police car can be especially traumatizing to people of color, Rhatigan said. He pointed to traffic stops that ended in the person’s death, like Philando Castile in Minneapolis.

Poor infrastructure in historically redlined communities may also be responsible for a grim finding: Black, Latino and Native Americans are much more likely to die while biking and walking per mile traveled than white Americans.

In 2021, San Diego had the highest bicycle fatality rate of any county in California.

The city set a goal to increase its biking and walking rates by 2023. Police harassment is an under-discussed factor in people’s choice to bike or walk to work, Rhatigan argued.

Have you been stopped by San Diego police for a walking or biking infraction? What happened and how did it impact you?

Answer in the form below. Your thoughts and experiences may be included in an upcoming story.


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