Crime - Sacto 911

‘Racial profiling’? Jaywalking tickets disproportionately given to black people in Sacramento

Sacramento police issued 233 tickets for jaywalking last year in the police district that includes North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights – nearly triple the number handed out in the entire rest of the city.

Black people received 111 of those citations, nearly 50 percent, but account for about 15 percent of the area’s residents.

The equivalent of 12 citations were issued to every 1,000 black residents in District 2 last year, more than 5 times the issuance rate for non-blacks, city and census figures show.

The citation numbers, released in response to a request by The Bee, drew outrage from public officials and community members concerned that residents of the largely black and Latino area are unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

“It’s absurd and it’s something that has to be looked at,” said Councilman Allen Warren, who represents the area where the citations were issued. “That is why there is such concern and anger within District 2, because they are being stopped disproportionately and with no reason.”

On Monday, a jaywalking case in Del Paso Heights made headlines when Nandi Cain, 24, was stopped and repeatedly punched by an officer after allegedly walking illegally across Grand Avenue near Cypress Street on his way home from work. Cain questioned the officer over the reasonableness of the jaywalking allegation and initially walked away as the officer ordered him to stop. Video of the event shot by a bystander went viral by Monday night, prompting the department to release further dashcam video that showed the officer punching Cain about 18 times.

The officer, whom the department has not identified, was suspended Tuesday with pay pending both internal affairs and criminal investigations.

While the large number of citations handed out in Warren’s district was startling, the racial disparity in jaywalking citations happened in almost every police district in Sacramento.

The department issued 83 jaywalking citations in other areas of the city in 2016 for a total of 316 tickets, according to information provided by police. The breakdown includes four in Natomas, 30 in midtown, seven in the Greenhaven/Pocket and South Land Park neighborhoods, one in south Sacramento and 41 in the Oak Park/Colonial Heights area.

Citywide, blacks received 152 of those citations – again nearly 50 percent – despite making up only 14 percent of the city’s population. Blacks were also cited at more than 5 times the rate as non-blacks throughout Sacramento.

Police Department spokeswoman Linda Matthew said the decision on who to ticket for jaywalking “has absolutely nothing to do with race. If you have a suspect that is not following the law and commits a jaywalking infraction, the reason why they are stopped is not because of their race.”

Matthew said that officers do have discretion on whether to ticket a jaywalker or provide a verbal warning.

Policing expert Ed Obayashi said that the Supreme Court has ruled that officers can’t stop people based on broad categories such as race but do have the ability to subjectively make stops based on other factors.

Figures for citations issued to Hispanics are not available because the department tracks only race, not ethnicity, said Matthew. Matthew said that Hispanics and East Indians were included in statistics for “white.”

Councilman Eric Guerra said the lack of data on Hispanics and Latinos was “shocking” and “concerning.”

Matthew said the department has two codes it uses to cite jaywalkers, a city ordinance and a state vehicle code. The city code requires pedestrians use a crosswalk if they are within 300 feet of one. The state code forbids pedestrians from crossing the street between adjacent intersections where there are traffic lights or police directing traffic.

The penalty for the state violation is $197, according to the Judicial Council of California fee schedules. The penalty for the city violation was not immediately available.

The tally of jaywalking tickets includes only electronic citations. Matthew said additional paper citations may have been issued but are not tracked by the department.

Kim Pedersen, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Superior Court, said the court received 17 paper citations filed for the city jaywalking law by the Sacramento Police Department in the same time frame but she did not have a number for the state code. Pedersen said the court did not track where the citations were issued.

Community members said the enforcement of minor infractions like jaywalking are harassment and an excuse for police to search people for larger crimes such as carrying weapons or possession of drugs, and that Cain should have been able to question the officer’s right to stop him.

“Where is it in our law book that as a black man walking down the street, whether there is law being broke or not, I have to adhere to harassment?” asked Jay King, a community advocate and radio talk show host in north Sacramento.

Rashid Sidqe, a community activist who has been pushing for the release of data on traffic stops and more transparency in the Police Department, said the citation numbers pointed to “racial profiling” and that stopping people for minor infractions was “an intimidation in our neighborhoods that doesn’t take place in the Land Parks and Greenhavens.”

He said young black men especially are targeted for increased police scrutiny in the area.

“We are put under suspicion, under doubt,” said Sidqe. “Too often we are pulled off the street and questioned.”

Tim Davis, head of the union that represents local police officers, said that stopping people for minor infractions was a “proactive” way to “lower crime.”

“If we want to keep crime down, we need to make those stops. And just because we stop people, that doesn’t mean they are a criminal,” said Davis. “It’s the little things, like jaywalking and minor traffic violations. If you look into those, you will find a lot more.”

Matthew said she was uncertain why North Sacramento had significantly higher numbers of jaywalking citations. She noted that the area includes major thoroughfares such as Arden Way, El Camino Avenue, and Marysville, Del Paso and Rio Linda boulevards that are potentially hazardous to cross, and where crosswalks may be less common.

“There’s a lot more foot traffic in those areas,” Matthew said. “Pedestrians will often cross the boulevards wherever instead of walking down to the crosswalk where it’s safe and lawful.”

A Bee analysis of traffic accidents involving pedestrians found that North Sacramento is slightly more dangerous for pedestrians than other areas.

Sacramento police responded to 164 accidents involving pedestrians crossing the street outside a crosswalk from 2012 through 2015, according to data submitted to the California Highway Patrol. District 2 led the city in these types of accidents, but not by a wide margin.

District 2 saw 39 accidents involving jaywalking pedestrians from 2013 through 2015. Other patrol districts saw 20 to 30 such accidents. Six people died in District 2 accidents involving jaywalking from 2013 through 2015. Other districts saw between zero and five deaths.

North Sacramento is also home to many minority residents. About 70 percent of residents in District 2 are minorities, the highest rate among police districts except for District 5 in south Sacramento, 2010 census figures show. Along with a significant black population, about 34 percent of District 2’s residents are Hispanic and 14 percent are Asian.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said that he thinks Sacramento needs to have an “honest conversation” about race. He said increased community policing, in which officers develop relationships in neighborhoods, is needed to improve relations in places like North Sacramento.

“When those relationships are established, (police) don’t have to stop people randomly because they know who is on parole and who has a reputation for causing trouble and who is just a young person going about their business,” Steinberg said.

He said community policing and increased diversity on the force could help “our law enforcement have the ability to come down on those who are committing crime and not confusing that with making life a lot more difficult for people who happen to be black … who are just going about their business.”

Warren said he has requested the city investigate jaywalking citations, and the city opened that inquiry on Friday.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa