The San Diego Police Department hasn’t followed its own policy on collecting racial data on the people officers pull over during traffic stops. It’s a key finding of our investigation into the department’s approach to racial profiling issues.

Here’s a breakdown of our investigation.

Less than 1/5

San Diego police officers collected the race of the people they pulled over in less than one out of five traffic stops in the first 10 months of 2013, even though department policy requires officers do it for every stop. The city of San Diego and Police Chief William Lansdowne used to be national leaders on data collection for racial profiling.


Seven of the 10 largest police departments in the country have policies requiring officers to gather race and ethnicity information on traffic or pedestrian stops, even if they don’t arrest or cite the person stopped. An eighth department, Washington D.C., documents the race of those frisked by police. Data in New York City showed an overwhelming number of people stopped and frisked by police were black and Hispanic, a finding critics point to when arguing the practice is unconstitutional.


San Diego police investigations have found no valid discrimination complaints against the department in the last five years, and an average of fewer than six complaints a year were filed during that time. Lansdowne and other police officials said residents don’t believe racial profiling is a problem in San Diego. But the head of the local Black Police Officers Association, the president of the local NAACP and a city councilman all said racial profiling happens here and that they hear concerns about it.


Last month, the city of San Diego agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by two young black residents who said police wrongfully arrested them and used excessive force during a 2010 traffic stop in City Heights. A judge ruled officers violated the residents’ Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The residents did not allege racial profiling in the lawsuit, but one of them believes his race may have been a reason he was pulled over.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

    This article relates to: Investigations, News, Public Safety, Racial Profiling, San Diego Police, Share

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    Bit-watcher subscriber

    Glenn Younger makes a good point: in a neighborhood largely dominated by a particular race or ethnicity, most of the drivers will be of that race or ethnicity and the stops will reflect that. If officers are forced to _not_ stop drivers because they are globally a minority, even though the local majority, crime prevention in the neighborhood may be affected.

    Another thing: giving lip or attitude to a police officer seems like a bad idea, regardless of one's race. Using attitude borrowed from a scene in a movie or TV (it's MOVIE or TV, not real life) is not smart.


    Given how quickly some police officers seem to get spooked into aggressive or illegal action by race, or different looks, if I were a young man of color, openly gay or into leather & tats, I would be very nervous about being stopped by the police in San Diego. The police seem to react that way because they can. I am the mother of two sons and grandmother to three more boys and worry they will end up at the wrong place at the wrong time vis-a-vis the police.

    Bit-watcher subscriber

    Teach the boys not to be in the wrong place or time. There's a certain sense in that. My folks drilled it into me. Being out after curfew is just a bad idea for youth, generally. Also, don't dress gang or look gang. It could get a youngster killed (by a gang member), and makes it easier to get a job.


    It remains very difficult for San Diego to stay focused on racial profiling over the past decade, despite San Diego's and San Jose's early leadership in identifying racial profiling (SD under Sanders, SJ under Lansdowne). Your fine Investigative article asks that we all --law enforcement executives, politicians, media & concerned citizeny--maintain memory and focus in order to improve and maintain improvements in fair, firm and unbiased policing.

    Here's how Victoria is addressing the issue at present:
    Victoria Police unveil plan to stamp out racism in force
    Read more:

    VoSD, thank you for doing the hard work shown in your article.
    Sue Quinn,
    National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcment, NACOLE, Past President.Victoria Police unveil plan to stamp out racism in force have unveiled a broad three-year plan to improve the treatment of diverse communities, following a historic public consultation on racial profiling practices within the force. Victoria Police will trial a "receipting" system for searches on th...

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    Seems like there is a missing data point. The Race of those stopped in relationship to the neighborhood. If 80% of those stopped are one race, in a neighborhood that is 80% of that same race, that makes sense. So comparing the neighborhoods might shed some light on if this is or is not an issue.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon memberadministrator

    Hi Glenn. Thanks for writing. Great point. Some of my follow up articles plan to delve into the promises and problems with this kind data. In short, it's far from a magic bullet, but it helps monitor the situation in a way that goes beyond pure anecdotes.