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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

U-T Series Explores Bias In Policing In San Diego County

Speaker 1: 00:00 Even as the trial for the killing of George Floyd continues, new instances of police violence against black men have been in the headlines. An army officer in Virginia is pepper spray during a traffic stop. And 20 year old Dante right is killed by police in Minnesota. After being pulled over for expired license plates, a series of reports in the San Diego union Tribune has been exploring bias in policing in our community. And it's exploration of who gets stopped, searched or experiences violence at the hands of police suggests San Diego law enforcement has a bias problem within its ranks. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune, watchdog reporter, Lindsey Winkler, and Lindsay. Welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:46 Thank you so much for having me. Speaker 1: 00:48 We spoke with you about the first installment in this series and the headline of that report was that although blacks make up 6% of the overall population here in San Diego, they account for 20% of the traffic stops. Can you tell us what aspects of policing the two final reports explore? Speaker 2: 01:09 Sure. So our second story took a really deep dive into searches and, um, something called a hit rate analysis. And basically what that does is it takes a really close look at when individuals are stopped by an officer or a deputy. Um, if they are found with some sort of illegal item and that's important because, um, it can sometimes show us that even though a particular racial groups are stopped more often by police departments, they are less likely to be found with contraband, um, than the white population. Um, and so we sort of found that at the San Diego County Sheriff's department, black individuals and native American individuals were pulled over more often and searched despite the fact that white populations were found with contraband more often. Um, and similarly at the San Diego police department, we took a close look at something called a consent search, um, pay attention to that one because I think that there's some interesting news on the horizon when it comes to those sorts of searches. Speaker 2: 02:09 But when we looked at consent searches, which is the only reason why that search happens is because an officer asked for it to happen. He doesn't necessarily have to suspect that any criminal activity has happened. And what we found is that San Diego police officers were more likely to ask to search the Latino population, despite the fact that the white population was more likely to be found with contraband in those particular sorts of searches. The third story was centered on use of force. I think, as you just alluded to that is certainly something that captures headlines. We know that it's not the full picture of racial disparities in policing, but it's definitely important. And we wanted to explore that more deeply. However, we did couple that story with conversations with activists, police leaders, city leaders, on what they feel to change in order to address the disparities that we see in the data. Speaker 1: 03:03 Right. Let me break that down a little bit, but first let me ask you what you mean about something on the horizon about consent searches? Speaker 2: 03:10 Yeah, I mean, there have been many calls for consent search policies to change and mayor Todd Gloria recently alluded to the fact that the city is going to be exploring some policy changes in that realm. So we'll have to see what comes with that. Speaker 1: 03:28 You're a port put a human face on one of the stops and searches. It's a pretty well-known face in San Diego attorney and activist Genevieve Jones. Right. What did she tell you about her experience? Speaker 2: 03:40 Yeah. Um, I have had the pleasure of working, um, with Genevieve on a number of stories. And, um, I just have to say that I was, uh, I was so grateful that she decided to relive this experience with me. Um, but essentially she was, um, leaving a Memorial for a colleague who had passed away. And pretty soon after leaving that sort of beach side, get together, she was followed by police. Um, so for miles and miles, they sort of tailed her until she pulled off into a Southeast San Diego neighborhood. And that's when they pulled her over. Um, but it wasn't just a normal stop. This was something called a hot stop, which is when many police officers are present. They had a police canine and, um, it was a 10 minute ordeal where she was put into the back of a police car, um, because the officers believed that her car had been stolen and she told them numerous times that it had not that it was her vehicle. Speaker 2: 04:43 And, um, it was just this really extended traumatic ordeal. And the reason why we wanted to highlight that stop is because we wanted to make it really clear that the numbers that we're discussing in this story are experiences for people and at times traumatic experiences for people of color. Um, and that's something that can kind of easily get lost in percentage comparisons and rates and everything else. And so we want it to make it, you know, we just wanted to help people understand the effect of police stops particularly on communities of color. And more specifically than that, the black community, Speaker 1: 05:24 What is law enforcement saying about these numbers and what they seem to be Speaker 2: 05:27 Reveal? Yeah, so the San Diego County Sheriff's department was a little bit less communicative with us about these numbers. They did speak a little bit to the over-representation of native Americans within their stops, essentially saying that because of the sheriff department's responsibility to respond to incidents that are sort of initiated by tribal police departments across the County, that they believe that that's why those numbers were inflated. Um, the San Diego police department was much more, um, and they had a lot of things to say about the numbers. I will say that they did acknowledge that implicit and explicit bias were, you know, likely a factor in the disparities that we saw, but it was really clear that they didn't feel like that was the top of line issue. They were more likely to point to things like criminality, uh, individual experience such as homelessness or mental illness. Um, and those sorts of circumstances sort of external from the police officer involved would more likely lead to a police contact. Speaker 1: 06:33 You just mentioned that, uh, mayor Todd, Gloria is calling for San Diego too, in, in one sense or another update its police policies and the statistics coming out, not just from your report, but all across the state on police stops and searches. It's sparking interest in developing new policies and procedures. What kind of policy changes are experts considering? Speaker 2: 06:57 So should we should make it really clear that there are community groups that have been working on this front in San Diego County and beyond, but specifically in San Diego for many, many years. And the disparities that we uncovered in this report are not new. Um, and so that's given a lot of very smart people, a lot of time to sort of discuss how to best respond to, you know, long-standing disparities. Um, but I would say the two that are, I think, um, some of the most interesting and you hear about them often is a, an end to consent searches and be an end to protect sexual stops. Um, so consent searches as we sort of discussed earlier is when, um, the only reason why a consent search happens is because an officer or a deputy asks for it to happen. Um, there doesn't need to be any sort of, um, reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred. Speaker 2: 07:49 Um, and there, depending on where you are on the scale, uh, lots of people and the community would just like those things to end. Um, but I think there's also another community that would like, um, well, this is more on sort of the police side of things to see just much more stringent requirements placed on those sorts of searches. Um, and then you have pretextual stops. Um, pretextual stops are stops that occur, you know, that can occur for say a traffic violation, even though the real reason an officer is pulling somebody over for a traffic violation is some other thing that they suspect might be happening. And similarly, certain groups just want to see those go away. Um, other people want to see more stringent limits placed on those. So we'll have to see kind of what the end result is. If those two things are in fact going to see some changes. Speaker 1: 08:40 All right, then I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, watchdog reporter, Lindsey Winkler. And thank you so much. Speaker 2: 08:47 Thank you so much for having me.

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Even as the trial for the killing of George Floyd continues, new instances of police violence against black men have been in the headlines. An army officer in Virginia is pepper sprayed during a traffic stop, and 20-year old Daunte Wright is killed by police in Minnesota after being pulled over for expired license plates. A series of reports in the San Diego Union Tribune has been exploring bias in policing in our community.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments