BPD report indicates racial disparities in policing

Vivian Roan/File

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On Friday, the Berkeley Police Department released a long-awaited draft report published by the Center for Policing Equity that compiled and analyzed five years of data on BPD traffic stops, and according to former police review commissioner Bulmaro Vicente, “The reports were not surprising.”

Black residents in Berkeley are almost six times more likely to have force used on them, nearly six times more likely to be pulled over for a traffic stop and three times more likely during a vehicle stop to be subjected to a search by Berkeley Police Department officers, compared to white Berkeley residents, according to the CPE report.

The report authors wrote that “more work remains to be done, both within BPD, between BPD and the Berkeley communities, and with the communities and law enforcement agencies of the broader Bay Area” to address “unwelcome disparities.”

The recently released report by the Center for Policing Equity shows continued disparities in traffic stops, car searches and other police interactions in Berkeley,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, it will take a long time to dismantle the institutional racism and discrimination that are inherent in our society. No police department in the nation is immune, and we now have to analyze what is driving this troubling trend.”

BPD could not be reached for comment on the report’s findings.

As part of the report, the CPE examined BPD use-of-force reports from 2012 to 2016, finding that the per capita use-of-force rate for Black residents was 65.2 per 10,000, compared to only 11.0 per 10,000 for white residents.

While the report authors added that BPD records “unusually low numbers of use of force incidents,” the CPE called BPD’s data collection with respect to use of force “not comprehensive,” recommending BPD to “begin data collection of all use-of-force incidents.”

Vicente said he has previously raised concerns about the language of BPD’s use-of-force policy with BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, but found Greenwood’s response “frustrating.”

“The response by Chief Greenwood to the report has been very disappointing,” Vicente said. “Now more than ever, now that he has recently appointed police chief, he needs to hold his police department accountable and take steps to address this. Community members are going to lose trust in him because of his lack of accountability to himself.”

The CPE report finds a number of statistical trends that indicate racial disparities in BPD traffic stop behavior.

The CPE report also analyzed BPD vehicle stops on a quarterly basis from 2012 to 2015. The report found that during an average quarter, 36 percent of traffic stops involved a black subject and 34 percent of traffic stops involved a white subject, despite Berkeley’s population being 55 percent white and only 10 percent Black.

According to the CPE, 18 percent of stops involving vehicles with Black drivers resulted in searches and 13 percent of stops involving vehicles with Hispanic drivers resulted in searches, while only 5 percent of stops involving vehicles with white drivers resulted in searches. “It is unclear why higher search rates would be required to detect crime by Black and Hispanic drivers once they are stopped,” the report wrote.

Police Review Commission Chair George Lippman also pointed out CPE’s analysis of BPD vehicle stop outcomes in 2014, which indicated that 44 percent of white drivers stopped received citations, while only 22 percent of Black drivers stopped received citations. Lippman said the implications of these findings might seem “counterintuitive.”

“Suppose these rates were 60 to 40, meaning 60 percent of white people receive citations while only 40 percent of Black people receive citations,” Lippman said. “One might conclude, ‘Oh, the police were being nicer to Black people.’ What it more likely means: the police were stopping Black people at much higher rates for apparently no reason … because you would get a citation if you had contraband or were committing a violation.”

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the report’s findings “unsurprising,” saying the report showed “drastic racial disparities” across Berkeley.

Worthington said he hopes moving forward, City Council addresses BPD’s use-of-force policy and strengthens the powers of the PRC.

“It’s tragic it’s taking us so long to get the commitment to address these issues,” Worthington said. “These reports are not just stories by individuals — there is an actual pattern here.”

Vicente agreed with Worthington in wanting to see the PRC strengthened and added that he would like to see new training and discipline measures implemented within BPD.

According to Vicente, the city made a mistake in not listening to community members’ concerns in the first place.

“That’s a mistake we need to learn from — to take these experiences seriously,” Vicente said. “I’m really hoping to hear a statement from City Council and the police chief as to how they want to answer this issue … and acknowledge this report and the issues it raises.”

Bobby Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact Bobby Lee at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @bobbylee_dc.