Over at the Voice of San Diego, Andrew Keatts had a great article yesterday about San Diego's version of stop and frisk. In essence, the Sheriff's Department determined that a lot of ex-felons ride the trolley through Lemon Grove and, in an attempt to stop future crime, the officers swarm the trolley and trolley station to try and catch people without a ticket to ride the trolley. This then gives the police probable cause to search for drugs, weapons, and other illegal activity. They assert that arresting ex-felons for minor offenses puts them back behind bars, where they cannot commit serious or violent felonies in the future.
Setting aside the issue of whether this is an effective law enforcement tactic, it raises the question of what effect this has on transit ridership. My biggest complaint, at least for purposes of this blog, isn't about the people being arrested. As detailed in the article, what about the 16,000 people that were subjected to a massive police presence? It's the people being wrongly questioned by the police. Think about it:
1. Without looking at actual statistics, I think it is a fair assumption to say that minorities, including young black males, are overrepresented on the trolley compared to the San Diego population as a whole. (If anyone has these statistics, please let me know)
2. Thus, the people riding the trolley are the same people profiled by the police. Some may say this is an unfair assumption, and racial profiling doesn't exist. An (anecdotal) point of reference: If Keatts' article, he mentions a young black male that is handcuffed and arrested for "ignoring" a request to produce a ticket when he had his headphones on. I, a white man, ride the trolley often and do this at least once a month, many people do (if you are a young woman, you are often more than just excused from this requirement). I have never come close to being arrested or even questioned in any way. I get a polite tap on the shoulder and a "ticket please, sir." But even if profiling doesn't exist, the perception exists. If you are a young black male, it's a safe assumption to say you avoid interactions with the police, even if you aren't doing anything wrong. The failure to do so can have drastic consequences. Anyone who disputes this point hasn't been paying attention to the news for the last year. Ok fine, the last 150 years.
3. Despite some people's opinion, minorities are not universally stupid. If the trolley becomes the place where minorities know they stand a good chance of being hassled and involved in a swarm of law enforcement officers, with the risk of arrest for petty offenses or even detention for trumped-up charges, they are going to stop riding the trolley.
4. Once they stop riding the trolley, there are two options. First, they can drive a car. Of course, affording a car isn't cheap and the people being targeted also are more likely to have low incomes. The second option is to just not move around the city, which is going to hurt employment prospects. So, in order to arrest 186 people, the Sheriff has now suppressed public transportation ridership and raised the unemployment rate in the urban core, stalling economic recovery.
5. I'm not saying that these effects are huge, but I have no doubt that police tactics like this will, in the long term, suppress public transportation use and economic vitality. Without trolley use, it's going to be impossible for the city to fulfill its Climate Action Plan goals. Again, this isn't the biggest factor pushing down trolley ridership, but it adds to an effect akin to a death by a thousand cuts. The city needs to avoid any activity that is going to curtail trolley use.
Did anyone think about this? Probably not. If nothing else, tactics like this enforce the inequality inherent baked into our government policies. Poor and black? Ride the trolley and expect to be routinely hassled by law enforcement. Rich and white? Drive your car down the freeway, unimpeded, and we'll do everything we can to make traffic flow as smoothly as possible. Perhaps instead of stopping every person on the trolley, the Sheriff should start running checkpoints on the 8 freeway during rush hour. I bet that would lead to at least 186 arrests too.