Facing questions about whether they unfairly targeted black residents, Sacramento police now say a cluster of jaywalking tickets issued in the North Sacramento area – nearly half to African Americans – were part of a safety program to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.
The Sacramento Police Department gave that explanation late Monday as it reissued citation data initially obtained by The Sacramento Bee last week. Police face scrutiny after video captured an officer repeatedly punching a 24-year-old black man during an alleged jaywalking stop in Del Paso Heights on April 10.
The Bee reported Friday that city data showed African Americans were disproportionately ticketed for jaywalking in Sacramento last year and that the bulk of enforcement occurred in District 2, which includes Del Paso Heights and other northeast Sacramento minority neighborhoods. Police officials did not mention a pedestrian safety program at that time, and spokeswoman Linda Matthew said the citations had “absolutely nothing to do with race.”
In its Monday release, the Sacramento Police Department said it received a $622,627 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2016 for a yearlong program of traffic-related enforcement and public awareness efforts to prevent traffic-related deaths and injuries.
The department said pedestrian fatalities jumped citywide from eight to 18 over a one-year period, and it spent some of that grant on pedestrian and cyclist enforcement around Del Paso Boulevard.
The officer punching incident that drew national attention did not occur in the business district that police said was part of their enforcement campaign.
Police said they met in 2015 with the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership Business Improvement District as well as aides to Councilman Allen Warren, who represents the area, to inform them of the jaywalking and safety program before it began.
But Warren and the Del Paso business district chairman said Tuesday they were never aware that police had initiated an enforcement campaign in their neighborhood. Warren reiterated concerns that police unfairly targeted black people.
“I had no idea that they were doing what they were doing,” Warren said. “I don’t care where (the citations) happened at. It’s targeted policing. It’s not being enforced throughout the city the same way, and it’s profiling.”
Shane Curry, chairman of the Del Paso Boulevard PBID, said although community members did voice concerns about pedestrian safety in both 2014 and 2015, he was not aware of any specific grant or program initiated by the Police Department to curb jaywalking.
He said residents, business owners and a representative from Regional Transit called for changes after an increase in pedestrian-vs.-car and pedestrian-vs.-train fatalities.
“People were kind of running helter-skelter across the busy streets and not using the crosswalks,” he said. “Anytime there’s any negative publicity, somebody gets run over by a car or crushed by a train, it obviously impacts us in a negative way.”
Police issued more specific data Monday night showing that about 68 percent of citations issued in the city in 2016 were at three intersections that were part of that enforcement project: Arden Way and Del Paso Boulevard; El Camino Avenue and Empress Street; and Del Paso and El Camino.
The department on Monday did not explain the racial disparity of jaywalking tickets within District 2 or throughout the city. Matthew said last week that deciding whom to ticket “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.”
Sacramento police did not respond for comment Tuesday.
Based on city data analyzed by The Bee, black people are 5 times more likely than any other person to receive a citation for illegal street crossings. Of 316 jaywalking citations handed out in 2016, 152 were given to black people, though they account for about 13 percent of the city population.
About 75 percent of the jaywalking tickets issued in the city last year were issued in District 2, though that district only contains 13 percent of the city’s population. 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 other residents, city and census figures show.
Outside District 2, black people received jaywalking tickets at 6 times the rate of others last year in Sacramento.
Warren has called for a city investigation of the citations.
The Bee sought jaywalking data after Nandi Cain, 24, was stopped for allegedly jaywalking in the Del Paso Heights area on April 10. The officer in that incident punched Cain about 18 times and arrested him after a verbal altercation. A bystander video went viral.
Within 24 hours, the department released in-car camera footage, dropped charges against Cain and put the officer on paid administrative leave.
Many residents in North Sacramento and Del Paso Heights praised the quick and decisive police response but said they are still concerned by police tactics.
Veronica Williams, who has lived in Del Paso Heights for about three years, said she uses the bus stop at Arden and Del Paso to get to her job in North Sacramento. The high number of jaywalking citations made her “uncomfortable” given other concerns in the neighborhood.
“I’ve seen people do drugs here, drug dealing, and there’s no police,” Williams said. “You don’t get to pick and choose.”
She said she has seen people jaywalk at the Arden-Del Paso intersection, some running to catch an incoming train or bus before it departs.
That intersection, located about two miles west of Arden Fair mall, serves as a major thoroughfare for the area with two lanes of traffic traveling in each direction. The intersection also serves as a public transportation hub, with Sacramento Regional Transit light rail trains and buses stopping to load passengers at the Arden/Del Paso station. Families, students and commuters cross nearby streets to access the stop.
Patricia Mendez, who also travels to the area from Rio Linda using public transit, said she and other pedestrians can wait a long time before signals give them permission to walk.
“The light will take like five minutes to change, so it’s easier to cross the street,” she said.
Editor’s note (April 18): An earlier version of this story said more than half of jaywalking citations in the north Sacramento area went to African Americans. That has been corrected to say nearly half; city data in District 2 show that 48 percent of jaywalking citations went to black people.