Berkeley cops unfairly target African-Americans
Newly released data from the Berkeley Police Department shows significant racial disparities in who is pulled over by police and targeted for searches, local civil rights leaders announced Tuesday morning.
The records of traffic stops this year show that not only are black people stopped by police at a higher rate than white people, but the majority of black people pulled over were let go without any arrest or citation.
While police stopping black people more frequently is troubling, “what’s far, far worse is that when they’re stopped it’s much more often for no reason,” civil rights attorney Jim Chanin said.
The data was released through a public records request earlier this month and revealed at a news conference today called by a coalition of civil rights and police watchdog groups.
The records show that between January and August black people have been pulled over at a rate far exceeding their proportion of the city’s population. Berkeley’s declining black population was only 10 percent of the city in 2010, but since January black people have accounted for 30.5 percent of those stopped by police.
White people, who make up about 60 percent of Berkeley’s population, were only 36.7 percent of those stopped by police.
Of those who were stopped, 38.1 percent of white people were eventually released without being arrested or cited, but 66.2 percent of black people were released without being cited.
Chanin said this clearly indicates black people were frequently stopped “for no reason.” Collection of the data has been mandatory since last year after the city adopted the “Fair and Impartial Policing Policy.”
The policy requires police to collect stop data for both vehicles and pedestrians, including the race, gender and age of the person stopped as well as the reason for the stop and whether any search was conducted.
It took until January to get the data collection up and running.
The data released so far includes traffic stops between January and August but not pedestrian or bicycle stops as mandated by the city policy. Of the 5,215 stops recorded, only 4,658 of the records contain racial data. None of the records contain location information.
Berkeley police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said omitting the pedestrian data was a mistake on the part of the department and that data would be provided.
Marcel Jones, a member of the University of California at Berkeley’s Black Student Union and Berkeley Copwatch, said the data shows a pattern “inefficient and ineffective policing” that is “creating and maintaining trauma within the black community.” National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Berkeley chapter president Mansour Id-Deen said the data showed illegal practices by Berkeley police, patterns that people of color have long complained about, are being confirmed.
Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan said in a statement today that it is difficult to draw conclusions from such a small sampling of data but the department is “years ahead” in training to prevent racial profiling.
“The men and women of the Berkeley Police Department do not, have not and will never tolerate discriminatory, bias-based policing. Such discrimination is illegal, it is not our practice and it is not part of our organizational culture,” Meehan said.
“Few agencies have done as much as the Berkeley Police Department to understand and address this issue,” he said.
But Chanin pointed to neighboring Oakland as an example of how the analysis of this kind of data can lead a police department to successfully grapple with reducing racial disparity in stops.
“After a lot of encouraging and badgering in Oakland” the department is reducing the number of stops where people are released with no arrest or citation, Chanin said.
Oakland is continuing its analysis of racial stop data with the help of Stanford professor Jennifer Eberhardt. The analysis is required by a federal judge overseeing a series of reforms agreed to in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by Chanin and John Burris.
But while he, Burris and police Chief Sean Whent have been working diligently on the issue in Oakland, “cameras have probably made the biggest difference,” Chanin said.
Use of force complaints have dropped 40 percent in Oakland since police body cameras have been put into widespread use there, and Berkeley should follow suit, Chanin said.
City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who attended today’s news conference and supported efforts to begin tracking stop data in Berkeley, said the City Council has been working on getting body cameras for the department since last year.
The department has been working on drafting a policy and buying the cameras. While there isn’t an exact timetable for their implementation, Arreguin said he hopes it will happen soon.
Arreguin called the numbers released today “alarming” and said he looks forward to seeing the rest of the data, including pedestrian stops and location information.
While the data doesn’t show the full picture, “this information makes it clear I hope to everyone that there’s an issue we have to address,” Arreguin said. “There are disproportionate numbers of black and brown people who are being stopped by police.” Aside from the issue of simple fair treatment, Chanin said today that racial profiling has a “fundamental relationship to crime.” People stopped and searched for no reason become alienated from the police and are less likely to cooperate with investigations, he said.