The San Francisco Police Department has incorrectly undercounted arrests of Asians and Latinos for more than a decade. According to the Bay Citizen, the SFPD has been misclassifying the City’s two largest minority groups: Latinos as “white,” and Asians as “other.”
The inaccurate data has made its way into a report called “Crime in California,” published by the state since at least 1999. Because of the false data, officials now have no accurate record of how often non-whites are arrested in San Francisco.
This has led to statistics showing African Americans being arrested at a much higher rate than whites, but since Latinos have been classified as whites, the number of whites arrested is falsely inflated.
Published crime statistics were supposed to be a way to keep police accountable. But if false data is being reported,there is no way to correctly monitor the ethnicities of arrested individuals.
Francisco Ugarte, senior immigration attorney at the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, told The Bay Citizen:
“This is just extremely troubling. If San Francisco is effectively unable to categorize those in the city being arrested, that would undermine our ability to monitor police practices – particularly in San Francisco, with such a huge Latino population.”
According to the most recent 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, with another 2,800 arrests listed under “other.”
Making up 36 percent of San Francisco’s population, Asians are the City’s second-largest demographic group behind whites. But by reporting Asians as “other,” the statistics don’t give a clear picture of how often Asians are arrested in the City.
Even San Francisco police commanders have acknowledged that some of these statistics are wrong. Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka said:
“We have certainly made more than 300 arrests in the Hispanic community. I look at that number as a police officer and I can tell that it is inaccurate.”
However, Tomioka claims that the computer system that dates back to 1972 is the one to blame for the erroneous statistics because it only lists three categories for identifying arrestees by race: blacks, whites and other. Tomioka said:
“You’re making it sound like officers choose to do this. It’s what the system has available to the officers to put in.”
And in a fruitless response, Susan Giffin, the department’s chief technology officer, admitted they have no idea if any of the statistics the department reports to the state are accurate. She added:
“Not only can we not tell you if the numbers are right, we really can’t articulate what the problems are, or if there are problems.”
The problem with this is that the reports and statistics are used for numerous studies regarding racial trends and arrest rates. Lorena Melgarejo, director of community organizing at the Central American Resource Center, said:
“The police department says the community’s trust is very important to them. If they are underreporting numbers, they are basically making it impossible for us to understand what is really happening.”
The SFPD has had chronic battles with outdated technology, as well as a dismal record of replacing old, broken tools. The department has spent close to $20 million in recent years on failed attempts to bring their tech up to date.