Confirming what many racial justice advocates have claimed for decades, a new report released Tuesday shows Sacramento Police officers stopped, searched and used force against Black residents at significantly higher rates than white people.
Between 2014 and 2019, police were 4.5 times more likely to commit acts of force against Black people, according to the study, which was performed by the Center for Policing Equity at the department’s request.
Black residents accounted for some 38% of police traffic stops despite comprising approximately 13% of the city’s population. For pedestrians, officers targeted Black people 5.7 times more often than whites, and were 59.7% more likely to search Black people — even though searches of Black residents resulted in fewer illegal items than white residents.
“I was not surprised that those disparities were there. I didn't know the exact percentages, but I knew there would be disparities,” Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told CapRadio on Tuesday.
Sonia Lewis, former chapter leader of Black Lives Matter Sacramento and a member of Decarcerate Sacramento, wasn’t surprised, either.
“It's extremely daunting to believe anything that's being said, when the law enforcement agency is coming out and saying, ‘Yes, we did these things, and they are bad,’” she said.
The Sacramento Police Department’s request for the report came on the heels of two incidents of police violence in the city that made national headlines: the officer beating of Nandi Cain, who was stopped in Del Paso Heights in April 2017 and left with a broken nose and a concussion; and the 2018 police killing of Stephon Clark, who two officers fatally shot in what turned out to be his grandmother’s South Sacramento backyard.
When police used violent force in 2018, it was against Black people 45% of the time — the highest in the study’s five-year period. In 2019, the percentage dropped to 36.8%.
The total number of force incidents per year declined during the report’s five-year period by 27.4%.
According to the department, its sworn officers are nearly 70% white and just over 5% Black.
A majority of the stops and searches reviewed in the study began due to suspicion about a person based on their behavior, and a majority resulted in a warning or no action.
The report also indicates that Latinx residents saw higher rates of pedestrian and traffic stops than white people, but the same levels of police violence and force.
Hahn published a video response to the report on Tuesday, and shared an overview of recommended next steps and possible solutions, in addition to more “context” explaining rationale and approach to police stops and force incidents.
He argued that much of disparities in enforcement stem from officers patrolling a city that has a larger number of Black male parolees than other racial groups. The chief said Black people are more likely to be described as suspects in police reports, and Black residents are more frequently arrested for crime, among other things.
“In no way am I trying to say those are the sole cause of these disparate numbers,” in the report, Hahn said. “I'm not saying that. I've never said that, and I never will. I'm just saying those appear to me — not as a social scientist, as a police officer — to be contributing factors. And even if they're not contributing factors to that, they are lowering the life chances of people in our community and they need to be addressed.”
Lewis appreciated the report’s acknowledgment that law enforcement was more likely to target Black people in Sacramento. But she also noted law enforcement’s history in the country, not just the city.
“When it comes to even understanding the root of — and foundation of — what law enforcement means in this country, it’s that you started off as slave catchers,” Lewis said. “It's a natural assumption for law enforcement to then be the guilty party behind brutalizing Black bodies, because they've always been seen as property.”
Lewis, also a member of the African American Task Force for the Sacramento City Unified School District and a mother of four, thinks crime happens most of the time due to poverty, and ending poverty is linked to impacting schools and equitable distribution of resources.
“People are still afraid of the language ‘defund the police’ because they don’t see other options,” she said.
In terms of accountability, the city has a Community Police Review Commission, which was founded in 2016 to give residents an opportunity to monitor and discuss law enforcement policy and practices. However, the commission is limited in its influence.
A similar policing study of the Oakland Police Department by Stanford University in 2016 resulted in similar findings — namely that Black residents of that city comprised 60% of police stops. That report made several recommendations, including increasing data-gathering and making it more transparent, as well as using body-worn camera footage to improve officer training.
If you are stopped by law enforcement, you have rights. This story from NPR offers things to remember if police stop you.
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