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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Records Show Racial Disparities When San Diego Law Enforcement Uses Force

Speaker 1: 00:01 KPBS joined other media outlets and taking legal action against police agencies for their investigations into officer use of force KPBS, investigative reporter Claire Tresor examined the nearly 130 internal investigations released so far and found police in San Diego County use deadly force against people of color at a significantly higher rate than against white people. Speaker 2: 00:25 Keep your hands up. If he dropped his hands down again, I'm going to be bagging on a summer night in 2018 sky Oliver had lost control of your head. The white Valley center resident had gotten into a fight with some neighbors as the altercation escalated all over, threatened them with a shotgun. According to cell phone video, he then fled in a stolen truck. By the time Oliver returned Sheriff's deputies had arrived on the scene. They ordered him to exit the truck. He at first refused and at one point reached down into his lap. When he finally did leave the truck officers use beanbag launchers and a police dog to take him down. Speaker 2: 01:15 His most serious injuries were bites from the police dog, nearly five years earlier. An officer in the El Cahone police department confronted Raymond. Goodlow an African American man riding his bike on the sidewalk. The internal police investigation says Goodlow reached for his waistband and ducked behind a car. The officer shot the unarmed 53 year old six times. Miraculously Goodlow survived. The shooting. These use of force incidents had different circumstances, happened years apart and involved separate police agencies, but they are linked by a disturbing trend in San Diego County. A KPBS analysis of nearly 130 records dating back to 2001 shows when police use force on a suspect. If the suspect is a person of color, police are more likely to shoot. If the suspect is white, police are more likely to use alternative methods of force, including tasers, beanbags police dogs, or tackling the suspect California's police officer's bill of rights allowed the state's police agencies to be some of the least transparent in the nation. Speaker 2: 02:26 A new law that took effect in 2019, we're required them to release use of force records. They still only did. So when courts forced them to comply with the law, they're still about 350 past records that departments in San Diego have yet to make public. But here's what we know so far. The records include 62 instances in which suspects where people of color police shot 40 of them. That's about 65% of the time. Meanwhile, police fired on white suspects. 42% of the time in the cases where police used a method of force besides shooting the numbers were reversed. 58% of those suspects were white. Well just 35% were people of color right now, people across the world are taking to the streets to protest police violence against people of color in the wake of George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police. Thousands of San Diego gins have participated in demonstrations throughout the County. In recent weeks. Speaker 2: 03:36 Many police agencies have responded by publicly condemning the Minneapolis officers and vowing reform. The San Diego police and Sheriff's departments along with other local departments have ordered officers to stop using choke holds on suspects. San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulkner has come out in support of a more powerful citizen's review committee for police practices. One expert on police behavior calls, these welcome changes, but he says, departments need to acknowledge a difficult truth. I think quite frankly, that many police officers have a fear of black males. It's it's, it's more, um, uh, blatant than, uh, implicit bias it. They wear it on their sleeve. Phillip Stinson is a criminal justice professor at bowling green state university and a former police officer himself. They may not admit it to you or me, but that's the reality of the situation. Uh, police officers feel threatened by a black males. Most of the local law enforcement agencies contacted by KPBS for this story declined to comment. Speaker 2: 04:40 Only the Sheriff's department sent a statement asking that KPBS not publish the findings. The department argued that the analysis contains many flaws because the findings are based on an inappropriate and incomplete data source. One reason why the data is incomplete is that the Sheriff's department still hasn't released 90 use of force records since the law requiring them to do so. Went into effect nearly a year and a half ago. The statement went on to say that KPBS should instead refer to a San Diego district attorney's office study of officer involved shootings between 1993 and 2017. That study also showed black and Latino. People are shot at a disproportionate rate by police compared to white people, African-Americans represent about 5% of San Diego county's population. Yet 17% of those shot by officers during the da study period were African American. It is not enough. We have a lot of ground to make up for San Diego city council, woman, Monica Montgomery says she's encouraged by the recent changes police have made, but she says there's a long way to go. Speaker 2: 05:52 We can have all the training that we want for the training has to come from the route that we have biases and that our systems have been built on, uh, institutional racism. She wants to see a deescalation policy embedded into the police department, more oversight of surveillance technologies and changes to how searches are done. And she says police culture needs to change. I get videos often of officers, uh, acting in ways that I don't think is acceptable. So we do have to make all of these reforms from the outside, but the culture needs to shift from the inside. And there are ways that that happens, that that happens through discipline. Um, it happens through training, but it has to happen tomorrow. We'll look at how San Diego police are trained on using force Clare Traeger, sir, KPBS news Speaker 1: 06:47 from San Diego County to jurisdictions across the nation city councils, civil rights advocates and police departments are confronting use of force policies, amid calls for serious change that have long gone on heated. Joining me to discuss this as Phillip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at bowling green state university in Ohio. He's also a former policeman and attorney who has spent years researching and reporting on police use of force. Welcome to midday edition. Thank you. Well, the eight can't wait movement calls for eight specific reforms. I want to focus on one of them to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor. What's your feeling on this? Generally, Speaker 3: 07:31 there there's a long tradition in the police subculture of many of the state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to have a code of silence that officers do not rat out other officers. On the other hand, I certainly have seen numerous instances over the years where officers will intervene to stop. Another officer that they believe is going too far is using too much force that they tell them to stop that's enough kind of thing. So I think perhaps it's workable, but we need to really focus on changing the culture within a local law enforcement agencies. And that's a difficult thing to do. You know, you have to keep in mind, we have over 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States and all policing is local and it's really difficult to legislate, uh, policies, uh, to filter down at the local level. Speaker 1: 08:21 And is there any amount of training that can be done to change that culture that you're talking about? Speaker 3: 08:26 We used to think that police officers acted in stressful situations exactly as they were trained to do, if they were well trained. And in numerous instances over the last five or six years, there have been, um, uh, police shootings that have been video recorded and other types of incidents as well involving assault by police officers where police chiefs have told me in off the record discussions that they were shocked at the officer's, uh, actions, uh, that they simply acted ways outside of the way that they were trained, not only inconsistent with their training, but completely, uh, different, uh, from the ways that they were trained and the it left the police chiefs and supervisors puzzled and scratching their heads thinking, we just didn't know that an officer would do that type of thing. We thought they'd act as they were trained to do so. One of the problems that I see with many police officers, not all police officers and not everywhere across the country, but many police officers have a fear of black men and black boys, and that sort of permeates everything they do and their actions as police officers. Speaker 3: 09:30 And as long as that's an ongoing problem, I don't know that we can make a whole lot of progress in policing reforms. I don't think that those are issues that we can train our way out of with a few hours of implicit bias training. For example, I think it's, it's such a deep core issue of the police subculture that we really need to figure out a way to deal with that and to deal with it head on. And again, add more than 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the country because race permeates everything in the criminal justice system. And we see, uh, it seems to be at play in some of the high profile cases in recent months in recent years. So I think that's something that we, we just can't ignore that elephant in the room. Speaker 1: 10:10 How do we address that fear? I mean, it, doesn't more having more, uh, men and women of color on the force. Wouldn't you think that would, would help out Speaker 3: 10:18 it logically makes sense that that's the case, but it would really take police departments, uh, having most of their officers as officers of color. It seems to me before you'd make a difference because what I see in my research is that African American officers often act as I would expect their behaviors to be in the police subculture in ways that would go against, uh, the ways you think they act based on their own experiences as a person of color. So it seems that sometimes the police subculture socialization process is so thorough and permeates all aspects of an officer's work performance and behaviors at work that that seems to Trump, race and ethnicity. Speaker 1: 11:02 Uh, what in your view are critical changes that police departments should make now to reduce the number of shootings and complaints of excessive force? Speaker 3: 11:09 Well, I think there's several things that can be done. Uh, first they need to go back and rethink who is it? We want to be police officers. We need to take another look at, you know, the eligibility requirements and the, uh, recruitment efforts that Sheriff's offices and police departments and other state and local law enforcement agencies engage in. We need to make the citizen complaint process easier for people to make complaints with law enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies need to make better use of the early warning and the early intervention systems, the risk management risk management systems that they have already in place. A lot of times the research shows that they ignore the flags of potential problem officers. And the idea with those systems is to intervene and correct before they become a criminal behaviors or other problems with corruption. I think that we need to somehow address the fear of black men and black boys that many police officers have. Speaker 3: 12:05 And then I think it's also important to note that if you go and talk to any police officer or deputy sheriff or state trooper across the country, they can tell you candidly who the problem officers are in their own department. That's not a secret within the agencies. The agencies need to really weed out the problems. And to, to a great extent, I think it's more than a few bad apples. I think we're well beyond the bad apples theory of policing. It's, it's, it's, uh, a bigger part of policing, the deep rooted problems in the police subculture that, that leads to these things that we see over and over again on video over the last several years. So those are some of the things that I think, uh, law enforcement agencies could do to try to turn the tide here. And maybe we're at a tipping point where they'll choose to do so. Speaker 1: 12:51 What do you think about the movement to defund the police, to shift some resources from cops to city agencies that deal with substance abuse and mental health and social issues? Speaker 3: 13:00 Well, you know, more than 30 years ago, when I was an undergraduate in college, in a public budgeting class, we learned about the Washington monument effect in budgeting where, uh, the government would declare, you know, hypothetically that we're going to defund the Washington monument. Well, you can't really get rid of the Washington monument. So I think this is a similar type situation in that there are many core functions of police departments and Sheriff's offices that simply can't be transferred to other agencies. If somebody is the victim of a domestic violence assault, they need to be able to have the police respond to assist them. There are certain things that just can't be done by other agencies. Now, that being said, I think there has been a creep over the last three or four decades where law enforcement agencies have taken over more and more responsibilities first with deinstitutionalization of the mental health system. Speaker 3: 13:50 And then with really a funding crisis in community mental health systems across the country where resources simply aren't available. And we're warehousing a lot of people with mental illness as pretrial, detainees, and County jails across the country and law enforcement officers have to deal with those people. They have to deal with the homeless population. Many of whom have other issues that other human services agencies and other social services agencies could be out on the frontline dealing with. So I think it makes sense to take a close look at what the police do and what we want the police to do. And maybe some of the core functions can be transferred to other types of agencies, but the idea that we'll simply abolish police departments, I don't think makes sense with one caveat, you know, in Camden, New Jersey, they eliminated the Camden city police department and replaced it with a whole new County police department. Speaker 3: 14:38 And three fourths of the officers that worked in the Camden city police department were not rehired by the new agency. They've got new badges, new colored uniforms, new cruisers, and a whole new attitude, and the citizenry has bought into it. And so have the police officers and crime has gone down at Camden and community relations with the police have gotten better instances of reports of police misconduct and police brutality have seemingly gone down. So I don't know if we can replicate that beyond the banks of the Delaware river in Camden, New Jersey, but there's something to be said for looking at that as well as well in a few places across the country. Perhaps I've been speaking with Phillip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at bowling green state university. Thanks very much. No, my pleasure.

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A KPBS analysis found that when police use force, they’re more likely to shoot if the suspect is a person of color. If the suspect is white, police are more likely to use alternative methods.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments