San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne requested police body cameras for patrol officers Wednesday and other reforms to deal with community qualms about racial profiling at a City Council committee hearing. More than two dozen primarily minority community members attended the hearing, describing instances where they believed they were profiled and expressing other concerns about the issue.
SDPD’s response to the issue, from both a policy and empathy perspective, continues to become more robust:
Police are developing more policy responses to racial profiling concerns.
Body cameras are Lansdowne’s biggest response yet to addressing racial profiling, and he led the hearing with the request. Lansdowne said traffic stop data collection on profiling didn’t provide definitive answers on profiling. Body cameras, he said, would.
“There’s technology available that answers specifically the questions, individually and collectively to everybody’s satisfaction,” Lansdowne said.
He said the department has made a budget request for cameras before but it hasn’t gained traction. And he’s hoping interest in addressing profiling concerns could move it forward. Lansdowne estimated a pilot program of 100 cameras would cost roughly $200,000. Full implementation with 900 cameras for patrol officers would cost about $2 million, he said.
Such cameras are becoming en vogue in departments across the country as part of an effort to deal with all police complaints . The federal judge who struck down the New York City Police Department’s policy of stopping and frisking pedestrians as racially biased favorably cited the use of body cameras in Rialto, Calif., according to the New York Times . A recent American Civil Liberties Union policy paper  spoke positively of the cameras, provided they come with policies to deal with privacy concerns.
Lansdowne’s responses to racial profiling concerns have gotten more and more robust. At first, he said he’d order a new round of traffic stop data collection . Then last week, he said he needed to overhaul the entire data collection system  because it wasn’t working. Now, the body cameras.
Lansdowne spoke of numerous other ways to address profiling concerns, too, including potentially tracking racial data on pedestrian stops as well as traffic stops. He said he’d work out the details of various policies through meetings with civil rights and community groups.
The Police Department’s acknowledgment of profiling concerns is evolving too.
Black, Hispanic, Asian, white and other community members spoke about instances where they believe San Diego police have profiled them or others they know.
Lando Brown, a 27-year-old black resident of southeastern San Diego, said he’s pulled over frequently and asked if he’s on probation or parole or if he’s in a gang. When he says no, police ask to see his tattoos and imply they’re gang-related.
“If your job is to protect and serve, then why do I feel like you guys are the ones trying to harm us or hurt us?” Brown said.
Christina Griffin, a black resident of Paradise Hills, said it’s humiliating for to be frequently questioned by police.
“I start to fall into believing that I am of those criminal backgrounds because of being stopped so much or questioned so much by law enforcement that is committed to protect me,” Griffin said.
Asian residents also believe they’ve been profiled, said Paul Valen, the vice president of the local Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
“We hear kids from Skyline to Paradise Hills talk about how they’re being labelled as gang members,” Valen said.
Like his policy responses, Lansdowne has expressed growing sympathy toward community members with profiling concerns.
At first, he said he didn’t hear complaints about it . Then he said the perception of profiling did exist within the community . At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, he conceded that some community members felt a lack of trust in the department.
“I’m the first to say it’s not perfect,” Lansdowne said of the department. “But we will do those things necessary to make sure this community understands how much we care about them.”