San Francisco Police Underreport Arrest Rates for Latinos, Asians

Shoshana Walter, California Watch, August 14, 2012

The San Francisco Police Department has underreported the arrest rates of the city’s two largest minority groups for years, misclassifying Latino arrestees as “white” and Asian arrestees as “other,” The Bay Citizen has learned.

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.

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.

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.

Over the years, concerns about racial profiling in the city’s African American and Latino communities have sparked city hearings and policy changes. Accurate, credible crime statistics were supposed to be a way to hold the department accountable. In 1999, the Police Commission ordered the police department to begin tracking racial data from all traffic stops. But disciplinary records show many officers still fail to fill out such tracking forms. And the misclassifications of Latino and Asian arrestees suggest other problems persist.

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The Bay Citizen discovered the discrepancies after the California Department of Justice released the crime statistics for the year 2010 in June.

According to that report, 8,198 African Americans and 9,151 whites were arrested in San Francisco in 2010, along with 316 Hispanic adults and nine Hispanic juveniles. About 2,800 arrests are 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 antiquated computer system. {snip}

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Police officers mark whether an individual is Latino or Asian on arrest reports, but Tomioka and other department officials blamed an outdated computer system for the inaccuracies. Installed in 1972, the system lists three categories for identifying arrestees by race: blacks, whites and other. Although the department could calculate the numbers manually, officers have been identifying Latinos as “white” and Asians as “other” in the computer system for years.

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{snip} African Americans make up 6 percent of the population but account for 40 percent of all arrests. According to the misclassified statistics, Latinos, who constitute 15 percent of the city’s population, account for 1.5 percent of all arrests. At nearly 36 percent, Asians have become the second-largest demographic group in San Francisco, behind whites. But the statistics reported under “other” provide no indication of how often Asians are arrested in the city.

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