San Diego police are preparing for a new statewide effort to reduce racial profiling by conducting officer training sessions, adding new data-collection software and amending Police Department policies.
The efforts come more than two years after a San Diego State study of traffic stops found racial disparities in how San Diego police handle traffic stops, particularly vehicle searches.
State law requires large police departments on July 1 to start collecting more rigorous data about officer interactions with the public in an effort to study racial profiling trends and find ways to curb the practice.
The law, Assembly Bill 953, requires San Diego police to sharply expand which kinds of interactions they document and what elements of each interaction they need to record and submit to their superiors and state officials.
Officers have been attending mandatory training sessions this spring and the department recently decided to use a data collection system created by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Two groups of officers, the gang unit and the neighborhood policing unit, have begun collecting the required data as pilot projects to help the department work out any kinks before July 1.
All officers will start collecting the required data on June 27 so that the entire department is fully prepared when the new law kicks in four days later, Police Chief David Nisleit told the City Council’s public safety committee on Wednesday.
Nisleit said it will be a significant shift for officers because they will be required to collect as many as 60 pieces of data from each interaction, many more than previously required under the department’s policies.
The department is planning to collect more consistent and rigorous data on race. New data that must be collected include gender, age, sexual orientation, the duration of the stop, ability to speak English and whether the person is disabled in any way.
Collection of some of that data is required because the goals of the state law go beyond curbing racial profiling to include reducing other potential kinds of officer discrimination and bias.
The department must also expand which interactions get documented beyond just traffic stops, which it has collected data on since 2000.
State laws requires data collection for pedestrian stops, bicycle stops and many interactions when officers respond to calls for service. And all data must be submitted by the end of an officer’s shift, except in rare circumstances.
Lt. Jeffrey Jordon, who is spearheading the new data collection effort, told the council committee that department officials are upbeat that the results will help improve officer training and build trust with residents skeptical of local police.
"Our department believes the collected data has wide-ranging benefits that will lead to increased transparency and an open dialogue with community members that will strengthen our relationships," he said.
The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized San Diego police for allowing officers to under-report traffic stops and for not focusing enough on racial profiling.
Lt. Jordon said the department will strive to avoid any skewing or under-reporting of data.
"There will be no massaging or manipulating the data -- you can't learn from manipulated data," he said. "The data is going to tell us what we need to take a look at, what we need to learn from and what changes need to be made and how we're going to go about doing that."
The SDSU study showed that race and ethnicity isn’t a significant factor in determining who police pull over, but that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched and questioned in the field after being stopped.
Christie Hill, the local ACLU chapter’s senior policy strategist, urged the council committee on Wednesday to make available to the public all of the data collected under the new requirements.
Chief Nisleit said he plans to make such data available either monthly or quarterly.
"I want everyone to have the ability to analyze it themselves -- independent study basically, not authored by the city of San Diego," he said.
Availability of the data is one reason the city chose the Sheriff’s data-collection system over one provided by the state Justice Department, which would not allow local access and analysis of the information, Jordon said.
While the state law requires collection of the data to begin July 1, departments aren't required to begin submitting the data to the state until next April.
Councilwoman Barbara Bry of La Jolla praised Chief Nisleit for his handling of the new requirements.
"What I've been most impressed about over the last few months, chief, is your openness to doing things in new ways and your embrace of it and your understanding that it will lead to better neighborhood policing and safer communities," she said.