Opinion

Arrest data reveal troubling pattern

The excessive number of public-drunkenness arrests in San José is not an aberration. It's part of a troubling pattern of charging large numbers of people with what amounts to bad behavior -- conduct that other police departments tend to handle without filing a criminal charge.

Mercury News Staff Writer Sean Webby reports that in 2007, San José police arrested people for disturbing the peace at twice the average of other major metropolitan cities in California -- and nearly quadruple the rate for Latinos elsewhere in California. Fighting and being unreasonably loud constitute a public disturbance. There were similarly disproportionate numbers of charges for resisting arrest or interfering with an officer's duty.

City Manager Debra Figone, Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council should demand an explanation. The task force looking at the drunkenness issue should broaden its inquiry. And the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity, a think tank that Chief Rob Davis has invited in to examine police policies, should now have a better idea of what it needs to look into: a lot.

But Davis shouldn't wait for those results to act. In the fall, after the Mercury News first published statistics on public-drunkenness arrests, including ethnic disparities, Davis responded by changing department policies. He required that supervisors approve any drunkenness arrests and that suspects be offered a breath test.

As a result, the numbers of these arrests have tumbled -- a tacit admission that there was a problem. Davis should consider comparable policy changes for other conduct arrests.

The department's data show that Latinos represent 70 percent of disturbing-the-peace charges, although they're only one-third of San Jose's population. These numbers cannot readily be explained away. The numbers for resisting arrest or interfering with an officer were especially troubling because they were the primary infraction -- not connected to, say, detaining a suspect who had been stopped for a more serious crime.

State law grants police wide latitude in deciding whether to file charges for public disturbance and resisting arrest. This is appropriate to protect the public and officers from potential harm.

There is also a "broken windows" theory of community policing, popularized by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York City, that the police can prevent serious crimes by cracking down on lesser infractions. Davis speaks favorably of that approach.

But discretion can lead to abuse. Some officers may target minorities or handcuff anyone who gives them guff. High numbers of resisting-arrest charges, when there was no other crime prompting an arrest, raise the question of whether officers are trying to defuse conflicts or unnecessarily provoking them.

For those with unwarranted misdemeanor charges on their records, the consequences can be harsh. They can be fired from their jobs or find it harder to get one.

-- San José Mercury News, April 4

Datos revelan injusticas de la policía

La exagerada cantidad de arrestos por embriaguez pública en San José no es una aberración. Es parte de un patrón de conducta problemático al levantar cargos a grandes cantidades de personas por algo que sólo llega a ser mal comportamiento -- conducta que en otros departamentos de policía tiende a ser atendida sin levantar cargos.

El reportero de Mercury News Sean Webby, indica que en el 2007, la policía de San José arrestó personas por interrumpir la paz en una cantidad doble al promedio de otras principales ciudades metropolitanas de California -- y casi cuatro veces más de la tasa para latinos en cualquier otra parte de California. El pelear y causar ruido irrazonablemente alto son molestias públicas. Hubo una cantidad desproporcionada de cargos similares a resistir arresto o interferir con las obligaciones de un oficial de policía.

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