The Police Department blames an antiquated system, installed in 1972, that only allows arrestees to be listed as “white,” black,” or “other.” Faced with these choices, the department has been misclassifying Latino arrestees as “white” and Asian arrestees as “other.”
The state has been publishing the erroneous statistics in a report called “Crime in California” since at least 1999, when the state Department of Justice first began posting the data online.
The Bay Citizen explains that because of the misclassifications, the department and federal and state officials have no accurate record of how often minorities are arrested in the city, creating skewed statistics and leading to widespread concern among local civil rights groups.
But it gets worse: according to the reported data, African Americans are arrested at a much higher rate than whites. But by misclassifying Latinos, the department has inflated the number of whites arrested, indicating that the gap between the arrest rates for whites and blacks is even wider.
This is deeply troubling, especially in light of what we have been learning recently about racial profiling in the police departments of other big cities. New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy is a prime example.
From The New York Times:
Randolph M. McLaughlin, a law professor at Pace University, said the new judicial attention was a product of the numbers: More than 80 percent of those stopped in New York are black or Latino, and last year there were 686,000 stops, with this year’s numbers heading higher.
“People are starting to wonder: ‘What’s really going on here? Is this a racial policy?’ And judges read the newspaper too,” Professor McLaughlin said.
In the case of San Francisco, concerns about racial profiling in the city’s African American and Latino communities have led to city hearings and policy changes. In 1999, the Police Commission ordered the Police Department to begin tracking racial data from all traffic stops.
So what happened?
According to the agency’s “Crime in California” report, 8,198 African American adults and 9,151 white adults were arrested in San Francisco in 2010, along with 316 Hispanic adults. A total of 2,789 adult arrestees were listed under “other.”
The Hispanic arrest figures included in the report come from other agencies in San Francisco, such as the California Highway Patrol, that have the authority to make arrests in the city but don’t share the Police Department’s outdated computer system.
San Francisco police commanders acknowledge that some of the department’s statistics are incorrect.
“We have certainly made more than 300 arrests in the Hispanic community,” said Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka.
By law, the Police Department is required to report crime and arrest statistics to the state Department of Justice each month. The state attorney general’s office and the FBI publish the data in their annual crime reports. The statistics also have been used in studies on racial disparities and trends in arrest rates.
Well, these studies are obviously worthless, since they are based on incorrect information. How on earth could nobody have noticed sooner that this 40-year-old system needed a radical change?
San Francisco civil rights advocates were reportedly stunned that police weren’t classifying Latino and Asian American suspects precisely.
Clearly, the entire system needs revamping, so that the civil rights of minorities arrested in San Francisco may be respected. Let’s get to work, San Francisco Police Department.
Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes