For months, San Diego Police Department and other large law enforcement agencies have been quietly making assumptions about sexual orientation, gender, age and other characteristics of the people they stop as part of a state-wide, legally-mandated data collection effort to understand and curb racial and identity profiling.
The department was among the first California law enforcement agencies to start collecting data under Assembly Bill 953, a state law passed in 2015 that is intended to help understand and reduce racial profiling and other types of bias.
Starting July 1, a handful of agencies including San Diego police began collecting as many as 60 data points about most officer interactions with the public. The documentation extends well beyond traffic stops to include most occasions in which an officer detains or questions someone.
Some of the data officers must report about the people they stop is objective, such as the duration of the stop and any actions the officer took, according to the law. Other data points are entirely subjective and must be based on the officer’s perception of a stopped person’s demographic characteristics, including age, gender and sexual orientation.
Officers are not allowed to ask people questions to gather the information, and they may not use the person’s driver’s license or other forms of identification to collect data such as age and gender.
“Officers must document their perceptions when they are formed and use their best judgment,” San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said in a training video released by the department.
The same rule applies to the data point regarding gender of the person stopped, Nisleit said in the video.
“When an officer gets to the gender question, if an officer can identify if the person is a transgendered man/boy, or transgendered woman/girl based on their observation, then they shall select ‘gender non-conforming’ when completing their data collection,” Nisleit said.
The law’s reliance on individual officers’ personal perceptions of people is by design, Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, said by phone on Thursday.
“We’re looking for facts but the facts we’re looking for is the officer’s perception and the circumstances surrounding the stop and the outcome of it,” Kocurek said. “The perception precedes the action of stopping a person.”
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