The longstanding perception that San Jose police disproportionately target certain racial minorities was confirmed last week. While African Americans and Latinos make up about a third of the city, they account for two-thirds of traffic stops.
Last year, the San Jose Police Department began tracking detailed information about every time an officer stopped a civilian, even if that encounter didn’t end in an arrest. The policy was reluctantly adopted at the behest of Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell to address public concerns of racial profiling.
The resulting data, reported over the weekend by the Mercury News, offers the most detailed breakdown of police detentions in the city’s history. It also appears to validate suspicions from local civil rights groups that police single out blacks and Latinos as suspects more than their white and Asian counterparts.
Police report that African Americans, who make up 3 percent of San Jose’s population, account for 8 percent of traffic stops; Latinos make up 33 percent of the population but 57 percent of police stops. More than 75 percent of people frisked and had their car searched were black or Latino. Just 6 percent of all stops ended in an arrest—7 percent each for blacks and Latinos, 3 percent for Asians and 5 percent of whites.
Though targeted less by police, whites were more likely to carry drugs (16 percent) than African Americans (14 percent) and Latinos (12 percent).
Police defended the numbers by saying they target high-crime areas that tend to be more populated with Latino residents.
Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a bold statement with calls to action, but also a bit of pandering in an attempt to soften the blow. Liccardo called SJPD “the nation’s most professional, highly-trained police officers,” before pivoting to a push for equipping officers with body cameras within the year. Police Chief Larry Esquivel has sought to delay body cameras until late 2016—most likely long after he retires.
“The analysis made available to me raises significant questions that deserve further scrutiny and public discussion,” Liccardo said later in his statement, adding that the city has agreed to hire an outside consultant to conduct an independent review of the data.
Some weeks ago, Cordell called it a glaring red flag that the SJPD has never once upheld a citizen complaint about bias-based policing and urged the city to broaden the scope of inquiry into those allegations. Liccardo echoed her recommendation, saying he plans to expand civilian oversight of police.