Activists Say Berkeley Police Data Point To Racial Profiling

Berkeley NAACP's Mansour Id-Deen and civil rights attorney Jim Chanin speak about data collected by Berkeley police. (Amy Mostafa/KQED)

Police accountability advocates are calling on the Berkeley Police Department to reform its practices after reviewing traffic stop data that they say reveal a pattern of racial profiling.

In a report issued Tuesday, a coalition that includes the Berkeley NAACP and the National Lawyers Guild presented its analysis of data collected by Berkeley police from January to August of 2015.

The numbers show Berkeley cops were more likely to stop African-Americans and Latinos than whites, but less likely to cite or arrest these groups for violations after pulling them over, activists concluded.

The statistics included demographic information on more than 4,000 people subjected to traffic stops. The information didn't include where they were stopped or whether they resided in Berkeley.

Berkeley Copwatch illustrates demographic data provided by the Berkeley Police Department on traffic stops between January 26 and August 12, 2015.
Berkeley Copwatch illustrates demographic data provided by the Berkeley Police Department on traffic stops between Jan. 26 and Aug. 12, 2015. (Berkeley Copwatch)

Although African-Americans constitute less than 8 percent of Berkeley’s population, they made up 30 percent of those stopped by police, according to the coalition's analysis.

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And while 38 percent of whites stopped by police were released without arrest or citation, 66 percent of African-Americans and 56 percent of Latinos who were stopped were ultimately released under the same circumstances.

Advocates said these numbers supported the conclusion that "when African-Americans and Latinos are stopped, very often it is for no reason." They said the findings confirm previous charges of racial profiling on the part of the Berkeley police.

The Berkeley City Council mandated the collection of data on police stops in June 2014 as part of the Police Department’s Fair and Impartial Policing policy — a model that Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan says he takes pride in.

In response to the coalition's findings, Meehan said his department has no tolerance for biased policing.

"Such discrimination is illegal, it is not our practice, and it is not part of our organizational culture,” he said.

Marcel Jones, a Berkeley Copwatch organizer and member of the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, pointed to the experiences behind these numbers while speaking at a Tuesday press conference.

“When these searches happen, folks are put in handcuffs, are sitting on the curb, have to deal with that embarrassment, have to deal with that trauma,” he said.

Berkeley civil rights attorney Jim Chanin said he was troubled by the disparity between how often blacks and whites are cited or arrested -- a statistic known as "yield rate."

“The yield rate needs to be the same for African-Americans and whites," he said. "Because we have found that when it is, there are less African-Americans stopped -- and when they are, it’s for a good reason, and not no reason.”

The coalition presented several ideas on how to achieve that.

In addition to demanding the city mandate the use of body cameras for all police officers, advocates are also urging the department to retrain some department members. The activist coaltion also called for more frequent demographic reports on police stops, including information about pedestrian stops.

Meehan said the department worked with the NAACP, ACLU and the city's Police Review Commission to undergo fair policing training just last year, and will continue to do so.

“We all want the same thing," Meehan said. "We want a fair and equitable Police Department.”

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Meehan added the department would commission its own analysis of the data through UCLA’s Center for Policing Equity in coming months.

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