A group of Bay Area lawyers on Tuesday came out with harsh accusations against the Berkeley Police Department.
The National Lawyers Guild released data that, its members believe, proves racial profiling in police stops citywide between Jan. 18 and Aug. 12. The information was gathered via a Public Records Act request, according to the guild.
“This data substantiates the concerns expressed by numerous African-Americans about [the Berkeley Police Department] over-policing of the black community in Berkeley,” said Mansour Id-Deen, a longtime community activist and president of the Berkeley NAACP.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 116, 768 people reside in Berkeley. Whites represent roughly 60 percent of the city’s population followed by Asians at 19 percent, Latinos and Hispanics at 10 percent and blacks at 8 percent, the guild said.
Of 4,658 people stopped by Berkeley police, 1,710 were white, 1,423 black and 543 were Latino or Hispanic. So, despite being a minority in the city, blacks were approximately 32 percent of those flagged by police while whites were 38 percent of them, the guild said.
Also, the guild stressed, 13.9 percent of the black population was stopped and searched in comparison to 3.6 percent of whites.
But the Berkeley Police Department's Public Information Officer Jennifer Coats said, "Drawing any conclusion from such limited data is challenging. Review of the data cannot, by itself, equate to discrimination, racial profiling or bias. Disparity throughout our society is well documented—understanding its causes is not."
The department's leaders are equally concerned about "disparity and inequity in the criminal justice system and are at the forefront of working to understand and address it," Coats said.
Marcel Jones, a member of the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, disagreed.
"This disproportionate stopping and searching of innocent African-Americans for no reason comes at a time when Berkeley's crime rate is up 23 percent over last year,” he said. “While the Berkeley police waste time stopping African-Americans who have done nothing to justify their detention, [the department’s] ability to keep Berkeley citizens safe from crime is further diminished.”
For her part, Coats pointed to the department's Fair and Impartial Policing policy, which was developed in collaboration with the Berkeley Police Review Commission, NAACP and ACLU. The policy stipulates that officers must collect and report data on the subjects of all street encounters, whether traffic or pedestrian stops.
"The men and women of the Berkeley Police Department do not, have not and will never tolerate discriminatory, bias-based policing," Coats said. "Such discrimination is illegal, it is not our practice and it is not part of our organizational culture."