Hispanics, blacks over-represented in San Diego traffic stops

The Associated Press
Saturday May 12, 2001

SAN DIEGO — Hispanics and blacks are over-represented in traffic stops, but there isn’t enough evidence to conclude racism is the cause, the police chief said Friday. 

A year-long analysis showed blacks last year made up 11.7 percent of traffic stops but 8 percent of San Diego’s population while Hispanics totaled 29 percent of stops and 20 percent of the population, Chief David Bejarano said at a news conference. 

Blacks were also subjected to 26 percent of vehicle searches following traffic stops while Hispanics made up 32.7 percent, Bejarano said. 

Whites, at nearly 59 percent of San Diego’s population, were subjected to 48 percent of the stops and 33 percent of the searches, according to the study. 

But the results, which mirror an earlier six-month study, do not prove racism because other factors, such as the city’s proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and the high number of tourists, make it difficult to measure the ethnic breakdown of the driving population, he said. 

In addition, the new 2000 census data could change the study’s results, which were based on 1998 estimates of San Diego’s ethnic composition from a local government association. 

“There’s just too many factors we can’t explain,” Bejarano said. 

San Diego was one of the first large cities in the nation to begin collecting racial data from traffic stops and the chief deserves credit for the study, said Jimma McWilson, executive vice president of the San Diego Urban League. 

“There is a real problem here and we have to find out the reason for it,” said McWilson, who is a member of a task force appointed by the chief to advise the department on ethnic issues. 

The study noted little difference in the amount of contraband found during vehicle searches.  

Officers found something illegal in 12.7 percent of searches involving Asians; 15.9 percent for blacks; 12.6 percent for Hispanics and 17.4 percent for whites. 

The police and community groups will continue studying the issue while the department also increases racial sensitivity training for officers and new recruits, the chief said. 

But Bejarano, the city’s first Hispanic chief, said he doubts there is widespread racism among San Diego officers. 

“I truly believe that our department does not engage in racial profiling,” he said. 

The study was based on an analysis by three university professors of 168,901 vehicle stop forms filled out by officers on Bejarano’s orders in 2000.