SFPD responds (weirdly) to allegations of racial disparity


The San Francisco Police Department has issued a head-scratching response to charges of racial disparity in marijuana arrests, possibly in an attempt to defuse controversy over a recent incident that already has some members of the African American community up in arms.

This latest flap started Monday, when the New York Times ran a piece about an American Civil Liberties Union analysis finding that nationwide, Black Americans were four times more likely to be arrested than white people on charges of marijuana possession in 2010.

On Tuesday, the East Bay Express drew attention to that report. Then, the Chronicle ran a story suggesting that racial disparity in marijuana arrests extends to San Francisco – a city where white people have such affinity for weed that they’re known to congregate in droves not only on Hippie Hill but also Dolores Park to commemorate 4/20 with collective puffs of smoke.

The Chronicle piece seizes on 2010 data to back up its claim, noting:

“Black residents made up 6 percent of San Francisco's population in 2010 while whites comprised 55 percent. The ACLU report said that of 298 marijuana possession arrests that year, 99 were black suspects and 195 were white suspects.” This would appear to suggest that a disproportionate number of Black suspects were arrested for marijuana possession. The Chron also pointed out, “the ACLU's report analyzed arrest data from 2001 through 2010."

Earlier today, the SFPD issued a response, apparently attempting to set the local press straight. It states: “This is not so. The San Francisco Police Department does not racially profile.”

To back up its claim, officers in the SFPD's Media Relations Unit wrote: 

“In 2011, the SFPD made over 23,000 arrests, of which 14,000 were classified as misdemeanors. Today, Chief [Greg] Suhr reviewed all 11 misdemeanor marijuana arrest reports from 2011. All 11 misdemeanor marijuana charges were secondary to other charges, e.g., outstanding warrants, weapons possession, drunk in public, for which the person (four white males, three black males, two black females, one Hispanic male, and one white female) were arrested and booked. It is evident that the misdemeanor marijuana arrests cited in the article were made using sound police procedure pertaining to criminal activity and not by racial profiling.”

But this response fails to address the ACLU's findings head on. If the New York Times and Chronicle pieces specifically hinged on 2010 figures, why did Suhr review data from 2011? The only hint comes in the SFPD statement, which notes that 2011 “was Chief Suhr’s first year as chief.”


maybe, blacks might be more likely to do illegal drugs? Thereby explaining why they maybe get arrested for drugs more?

More blacks get arrested for crimes in Oakland than whites. Racism? Or is it just that blacks commit more crimes?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

Some groups may smoke weed out in the open on the street corner more than other groups. Various sub groups of whites probably have different arrest pathologies around weed. I would guess skaters get busted more than lawyers for smoking weed too, while I would guess that both groups partake.

Not that weed shouldn't be legal and all.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

evident correlations between certain categories of crimes and certain demographic classes that typically are more likely to indulge in those crimes.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

white people are more likely to commit drug crimes, but black people are more likely to be arrested for and convicted of drug crimes. white people are more likely to be acquitted of crimes that black people are more likely to be sent to jail for. this is all stuff you can look up, so try doing that instead of making assumptions. the entire criminal justice system is racist. the war on drugs is racist. the way crime is even thought of in this country is racist. a thug in a suit on wall street is way more dangerous to america than a black kid who has been robbed of education and opportunity and ends up turning to selling marijuana on the street. thugs in suits own all the sweatshops and start all the wars, they order the bombs to be built and spill the oil in our oceans. yet americans think that black people are the violent ones who are destroying the country. oh, okay. keep being delusional.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

This may not get read, and I doubt I'll ever come back to check for replies but an interesting thought has occured to me while I read this article. What if the reason for getting off for a crime had some kind of relation to the persons IQ. I would suspect that a smarter person would be able to better represent, defend and manage their defense than some one with an IQ of say 70. Meanwhile, calling to light a failing education system and a culture of people that does not want to learn or better themselves in school but instead expects a free ride through to the end, and calls it injustice when they don't get it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

i don't disagree ... but using iq as the measuring tool is off ... as the tests for iq are developed and mostly reviewed by white people ... for white people ... and do not represent even the most basic and obvious linguistic differences : ie they're a setup, as someone who grows up with 'proper' english as basically a second language to whatever dialect their families speak and use cannot possibly score as high on these tests until they've had the opportunity to study in positive and empowering environment.

it is true, though, that those with less access to understanding the law are more likely to be incarcerated for the same crimes committed by someone who has had those opportunities

this is all about privilege : to access and control education

also about, for instance, the state of texas constantly attempting to limit truth from being published in textbooks, which the rest of the country purchases

Posted by wiseoldsnail on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 8:20 am

white people smoke marijuana, carry weapons, drive with broken tail lights, commit the heinous crime of graffiti and most other crimes as often as black and brown people ... or even more often ... and do so with impunity

just like police assault, abduct, and murder with impunity

Posted by wiseoldsnail on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 8:15 am

The answer is to legalize all drugs so no one gets arrested for using them - ever.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

Cops around the Bay are essentially no different than those here in Iowa where this report first surfaced and where I understand said disparity is the greatest.

Posted by NLE on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

I read the article in the Chron (this is where you heard about it too?)

In San Francisco, the Tenderloin and Hunter's Point have much higher rates of homicide and other serious crimes than the other neighborhoods, and hence they get much more police attention. And hence, the cops are going to stumble across many more pot smokers than in other neighborhoods. And hence more arrests there. And hence more arrests of blacks and crackheads/ex-cons.

Agree with Matlock, it should be legalized though.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

males get arrested than females is a sign that cops are sexist.


I have no problem with pot being legalized but that has nothing to do with the fact that Rebecca clearly wants to see profiling when all that is really going on is that those who commit the most crimes are getting arrested the most.

To which I reply, duh.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

Unfortunately I don't see her ever making that argument, because this is indeed a blind spot among liberals and progressives.

Institutional sexism (against men) in the criminal justice system is a terrible problem, just as institutional racism is. Read Warren Farrell's books. A man committing the same crime with the same criminal record is more likely to be arrested if caught, more likely to be charged if arrested, more likely to be convicted if charged, and will likely receive a stiffer sentence when convicted. And then of course the problem compounds, because a man is more likely to rack up a criminal record, making future run-ins with the law worse, as well as negatively impacting his ability to get a job and thus stay out of a life of crime.

Unfortunately this isn't something liberals and progressives want to talk about. The narrative of women as victims of oppression precludes talking about ways in which men are disadvantaged. It's not inconsistent to note that both men and women can be disadvantaged in different ways, but liberals and progressives don't want to talk about the other side of the coin for fear of undermining the prevailing narrative.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

But I'm not sure how they compile statistics based on people who do not get arrested since it isn't clear what the demographic is of criminals who do not get caught because, duh, they do not get caught and so are not in the system or the records.

If you ask anyone with any experience of law enforcement or criminal justice, they will tell you that young black males are the most criminal group. Heck, the black community itself acknowledges that as a big problem, and especially since blacks are also the biggest victims of crime.

While back-on-white violent crimes is 40 times more common per capita than white-on-black crime.

Faced with all this, a young black male in Oakland is far more likely to be committing felonies than a white grandmother in Orinda. So should it really shock you, me or Rebecca if they get arrested more?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 6:26 am

Actually, if you read what I said, I was talking about the differential treatment shown to men and women in the criminal justice system after they do get caught. This is at every stage of the system for crimes minor and major, ranging from cops more likely to show sympathy to female traffic offenders who turn on the waterworks, to defenses for murder that are effectively available only to women (see Warren Farrell's "women only" defenses). And everything in between.

But actually, now that you mentioned it, there are in fact ways to compile statistics on people who *don't* get caught... at least for some crimes. For example, drug use. Surveys show that men and women (and whites and blacks) use drugs at roughly the same rate. But who gets stopped and frisked? Police don't operate stop an frisk operations (or their equivalent in everything but name) in the Oakland Hills or the Marina. If they did, they might encounter Marina fratboys with coke, or some housewives with meth. Hell, back when I lived in OC, one of my landladies, a white housewife whose husband was a judge, was a big meth head. But cops don't randomly search people in those neighborhoods. No, they stop people in poor African America neighborhoods, whether using outright stop-and-frisk, or just an aggressive program of traffic stops that wouldn't be tolerated in a wealthy white community. 90-95% of the time, they find nothing, but this is a fishing operation. Stop any random person in the street -particularly young people -men and women both, and 5-10% of the time you'll find something. Men and women, black or white. But they don't target men and women, black or white. They target blacks, and they target men. And they run these operations in poor neighborhoods, so they target the most defenseless.

So there's both institutional racism and institutional sexism... and institutional classism, and all are equally repugnant.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 10:29 am

you will go where the criminals are. Since there is more crime in Bayview than the Marina, then cops will spend more time in Bayview. So they end up catching more blacks.

Rounding up grandmothers in Mill Valley is not very likely to yield much in the way of felons.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Did you not read the link that indicates drug use is equal among blacks and whites? It's just that no one goes sniffing around for drugs in the rich white neighborhoods. You can repeat the same mantra time and time again, but it's still just. not. true.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

They are looking for guns, stolen property, vehicle irregularities and so on.

So even if you are right that blacks don't do drugs more than whites (and I am far from believing that) then maybe blacks get caught with more drugs on them simply because they get stopped more for other things, and the drugs are then found during a "probable cause" search?

As for cops spending less time in rich wealthy neighborhoods well, duh, by your own admission there is less crime there, so why would cops hang out there?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

There is not less crime in wealthy neighborhoods. The crime that wealthy people commit is just different... in some ways. Actually it's kind of similar. The wealthy just have different ways of stealing property. And drug use, is drug use.

I don't think stop and frisk/ aggressive traffic stops for every little violation (which accomplishes the same goals as stop and frisk) are looking for stolen property. They're looking for drugs. They're not likely to find a stolen TV in the person's pocket, but they might find a joint. They're just as likely to find a joint in the car or on the person of a white person as on a black person, but the white person doesn't get stopped in the first place.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

that, say, Mill Valley has as much crime as East Oakland.

And yes, stop a vehicle in East Oakland with four young black males in it and you will likely find more drugs, firearms and contraband than a car in Marin with four white grandmothers in it.

So who do you think the cops should stop if it is their job to catch crooks?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

Stop just about any car there, and it's a 50/50 bet that you'll find some kind of drugs/contraband. Doesn't matter if the driver is male or female, they'll find plenty of drugs and/or alcohol, even though many of them are under 21. So why don't cops do that? Forget about the fucking grandmothers for a second and answer that question, and then tell me there's no bias.

And then there's the whole issue of white collar crime, which cops don't go digging for at all. That crime causes way more damage then the kinds of crimes that you're talking about when you talk about "crime." And it's not being committed in Fruitvale or BVHP.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

claiming blacks commit no more crimes than whites (an obvious non-starter) to an argument that the kinds of crimes that blacks commit are easier to solve.

And yes, mugging probably is easier to figure out than embezzlement. But I suspect that the average Bay Area resident would prefer safer streets and homes to the odd Madoff and Enron here and there.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

My point remains the same -there is bias against blacks (and males) in arrests. The bias is evident from data that indicates that for similar crimes and similar crime rates (drugs, which is what we're talking about), blacks (and men) get arrested more often.

Nor do I agree that white collar crimes are easier to solve than muggings. Muggins are extremely hard to solve. Often there's no evidence at all. With white collar crime there's always evidence. It's just that cops don't have the political will to look into those crimes.

Nor do I agree that those crimes cause less damage. A mugging may cause you to lose a couple hundred bucks in your wallet, and go through the hassle of calling all your credit cards. A Madoff or an Enron can cause you to lose your life's savings. Similarly, the physical violence perpetrated by a PG&E or a BP or a Richmond refinery, in terms of long term painful deaths from cancer, accidents, disease caused by environmental degradation, etc., is actually far greater than even the violence caused by murders on the street. And for what it's worth, you as a middle class white boy are a lot more likely to suffer at the hands of a white collar criminal than you are from a scary black man killing you.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

more blacks for any reason other than that blacks commit more crimes. Even liberals admit that is true but look to underlying causes like poverty or bad parenting to explain it. Only you have the audacity to deny it and there is so much evidence that you are wrong, and so few people who agree with you, that for all practical purposes you can be ignored.

And of course regulars here now that the cops are your own personal little obsession.

Oh, and FYI, personally i am far more afraid of muggings with their potential for harm or death than i am about some "white" collar fraud case. The latter is only about money and not my health or life.

Even Jesse Jackson admitted that he feels relived when he hears footsteps walking behind him, turns around, and sees it is a white person. You'd better start your campaign with the black community, and not hating on cops.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

Your first sentence says it all. No amount of facts will ever convince you that there is bias. Why even bother to discuss it?

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

Sure there's probably the odd cop who doesn't like blacks, just like there is the odd socialist here who doesn't like Asians.

But the simple fact is that you cannot infer bias from statistics. You need actual real-life evidence of blacks being framed with drugs when, in reality, they were completely innocent.

Not happening.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

"the odd cop who doesn't like blacks."

you're stupid if you think there's no evidence that police departments aren't full of racists. cops have a record of murdering unarmed, non-threatening black people. the oakland riders were cops who would go out hunting for young black men, beat them up, and plant drugs on them. chris dorner was a former cop who lost his mind after dealing with the racism in the lapd. there is TONS of evidence that there are not only a lot of racist cops, but that the criminal justice system in general is racist. but you go on drinking the kool-aid.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

white on black crime is institutionalized in oakland (and around the country), and is not prosecuted

illegal foreclosures not only ignored, but assisted by alameda sheriffs and opd ... are perpetrated by white bankers . this crime alone becomes a violent crime, as it forces poverty, which, in the end, delivers death

crimes committed by white cops against all people, but especially black and brown people are also not prosecuted : assaults, felony assaults, assault with deadly weapons, abduction, felony menacing, felony threats of violence ... actual violence and illegal incarceration ... all of these are serious crimes most often committed by (or at least ordered by) the white establishment, and perpetrated against the black community ...

we cannot continue to pretend we don't understand that using arrest and conviction and incarceration statistics to measure actual crime is just plain ridiculous

Posted by wiseoldsnail on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 8:27 am

Did anyone else notice that there were 11 misdemeanor arrests for pot in 2011 compared to 298 in 2010? Perhaps that is the bigger issue Suhr wanted to point out. 2011 data is more relavant than 2010. This is somewhat of a non-issue. At least on pot.

Posted by Richmondman on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 5:55 am

One just has to stroll down Market between Jones and 6th streets to see that the overwhelming majority of people openly offering marijuana for sale to passersby are African Americans.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 8:46 am

Her argument is essentially the same as very black uses when arrested:

"You're just picking on me because I'm black".

No, you get "picked on" because you are "committing a crime.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 9:00 am

"STATISTICS?!" I'm sorry, what really is being presented here is "Rebecca's confirmation bias"!

I can do it too. Did you know that a higher percentage of people who have children with autism buy organic food? OBVIOUSLY, that must mean organic food causes autism! To hell with the fact that correlation and causation are quite often unrelated!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 9:30 am

specialty is finding some weird coincidental correlation and then peddling that as an eternal, universal truth.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 9:46 am

The part about Black Americans being almost four times as likely as white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession?

I'm not the one who spent months researching that. That was the American Civil Liberties Union. Look, you can go straight to the source, here!: http://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white-re...

If you disagree with ACLU's conclusions, or if you disagree with the editorial decisions of the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle to cover the ACLU's analysis and to examine trends in SF, then maybe you should direct your complaints to them. The only thing I can take credit for is bringing this research and reporting to your attention.

Posted by rebecca on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 9:36 am

times as many blacks get arrested for smoking pot. But even so, that may prove only that blacks smoke four times as much pot.

In fact, if blacks smoke more than four times as much pot than whites, then it is blacks who are getting away with something, not whites.

People who argue there is racial bias in LE always ignore the fact that crimes do not break down equally between race or gender. It's overwhelmingly young black males who commit the most crimes, and so of course they are going to get arrested more.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 9:48 am

It's about the same, and actually higher among whites in the age groups most likely to be arrested.

Rebecca's entirely correct on the race issue. My beef with her reporting on this, and with the whole progressive narrative, is that the issue of discrimination against men is completely ignored. You'll never see Rebecca, or the ACLU for that matter, talking about the injustices perpetrated against men.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 10:35 am

Just as more blacks than whites are arrested, and more men than women, aren't more young people arrested than seniors?

So are you seriously suggesting that white grandmothers in Marin commit crimes at the same rate as young black males in Hunters Point? But get away with it more because of police bias?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 11:06 am

It may be true that some grandmothers are committing crimes, but nobody ever thinks to stop them; that said, I'll mostly give you the age issue.

That said, all indications are that whites and blacks commit certain crimes at roughly the same rate. Particularly drug use, which is a huge part of the prison population. And, while statistics are harder to find regarding men vs women, a cursory search also indicates that these crimes are committed at roughly the same rate by men and women.

Therefore, if more blacks and men are getting arrested, it seems like there is a bias against blacks and against men, but maybe not age.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

blacks males do not commit more crimes, per capita, than white women.

You might believe that but the percentage of the population that would agree with you is very low.

By your argument, cities like Oakland, Detroit, Gary, Memphis, Camden and St. Louis should not have the highest crime rates.

Yet they do. Why? Surely you aren't suggesting that it is just because their PD's are more racist?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

It's clear that blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate. It's clear that blacks get arrested more often. I don't even think you're looking at the data. I think you have you worldview, and you're stickin' to it. I can't convince you, because I don't think it's possible.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

Blacks and whites both do illegal rugs at the same rate.

Isn't it still possible that more blacks will get arrested for drugs simply because they get arrested more for other crimes? And the drugs get found as part of the search?

It's probably also a factor that cops pay more attention to high-crime neighborhoods, and those are mostly black. But what else would you expect them to do? Spend equivalent periods of time in area's with no crime just to appease the race card players?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

When you visit the webpage for the ACLU's report in the link I provided above, you will see, in the summary of its findings:

Marijuana use is ROUGHLY EQUAL among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession."

This is the ACLU's language, with my emphasis. Thanks for reading!

Posted by rebecca on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

speculations about who smokes pot, far less so.

Plus, since we all know that blacks commit more crimes generally, they are more likely to be busted for put while being stopped for some other offense. I often see reports saying "unlicensed guns and a quantity of drugs was seized from the vehicle".

Until you prove that white grandmothers commit all crimes at the same rate as young black males, you're pissing into the wind here.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

You're resorting to the last refuge of a scoundrel. My dad does this too when I rub his nose in statistics that contradict his world view. He just rejects the statistical evidence that contradicts his view, and only accepts the evidence that supports it. Drug use across different demographics is not speculation. This is statistical evidence gathered from research. If you simply disbelieve any facts that contradict your opinion, then there's no point in talking to you, because there's no getting through at all.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

exactly the same, per capita, across different demographic groups (unlikely as it would be a coincidence) you still have to show that different races commit other crimes at the same rate.

And that is very clearly not the case, else all the worst crime spots would not all be in majority black cities, as of course they are.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

Many scientific surveys are out there which ask people about drug use. There are no corresponding surveys that ask people whether they've committed grand larceny, or manslaughter, or violations of labor law for that matter.

However, if the surveys are saying that blacks and whites (and men and women) use drugs at roughly the same rate (not exactly -actually young whites use MORE than young blacks),and arrests for these crimes are higher among blacks and among men, then there's bias in drug arrests. And if the police are biased in making drug arrests, it's reasonable to assume that they're biased in other arrests.

The bar that you're setting makes it impossible to prove bias at all.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

what I keep telling you is the case and which you keep ignoring:

That blacks get arrested more for other crimes, and therefore are more likely to get caught with drugs on them as well.

In other words, if and only if the general crime rate among blacks was no higher than the general crime rate among whites, then the difference in arrest rates would go away.

But we know blacks commit far more crimes because we know that most, if not all, of the nation's major crime hotspots have huge black populations. and even the black community acknowledges that, so why do you refuse to see it?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

...and is simply doing it's civic duty as a bias-free "news" source. I must have had the COMPLETELY wrong impression of you guys. By all means, please carry on. I look forward to hearing about the report that was posted showing that gun violence is low among registered owners and highest among those who obtain them illegally. This new fair and balanced SFBG is a gem among the current rash of journalistic political warfare to be found elsewhere.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 06, 2013 @ 10:05 am

After reading that article in the Weekly I am left to wonder why the cops only arrest Asians for ghost scams?

The ACLU needs time to study this vexing issue I suppose.

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