By not digging through the numbers, police departments can create an appearance of transparency but miss an opportunity to learn about -- and potentially break -- patterns of racially biased policing.
Bay Area police departments that began recording the races of the people they stop and arrest do little or nothing with the information, and some make it all but impossible for the public to gain access to the data.
Cities around the country began such efforts more than a decade ago to try to keep police from disproportionately stopping African Americans and other minorities.
Such racial profiling has been an undercurrent in protests over the fatal shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man in Missouri by a white police officer, with activists saying police still subject young black men to excessive scrutiny and harassment.
While many of the Bay Area's biggest police forces collect what is known as racial stop data, the agencies rarely tabulate the numbers and share them with the public. Even when the information is reported, the figures aren't analyzed, with officials saying they lack the funding and staffing to do so.
By not digging through the numbers, civil rights advocates say, police departments create an appearance of transparency but miss an opportunity to learn about - and potentially break - patterns of racially biased policing.
"While collection is the first step, it's really important that analysis goes with it because without it, we don't know where the problems are and we can't design effective solutions for them," said Micaela Davis, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. "It's really imperative that the law enforcement agencies are more transparent about the role race plays in their day-to-day operations."
The type of information that police collect - and how it is used - varies from department to department, with little consistency.
The San Jose police force became one of the first in the state to voluntarily collect traffic stop data in 1999, and last year - after an independent auditor raised concerns - expanded the program to include situations in which an officer detains a person, forcing him to sit on a curb or in a squad car.
But the department has not analyzed the data since 2008. Last year, when The Chronicle requested five years of traffic stop data under the state's public records request act, police officials said it would cost $1,820 to generate - or $91 an hour for 20 hours. The newspaper did not pay for the information.
"We're not mandated to do any reports or any type of study," Lt. Anthony Mata, commander of San Jose police's research and development unit, said at the time.
"Trust me," he said, "there's so much that I want to do with the data that we do have. I would like to put out arrest stats based on age, gender and stuff like that, things I see other departments do. However, because of time and the amount of work it's going to take, we can't."
In San Francisco, police began collecting stop data in 2001, even though then-Gov. Gray Davis had vetoed a bill two years earlier that would have required that every department in California take down the information. Davis required the California Highway Patrol to record racial data while urging other agencies to do so voluntarily.
Sgt. Danielle Newman, a San Francisco police spokeswoman, said her agency didn't have the technical ability to store and analyze the information in the early years.
"At that time, we had no funding, no staffing," Newman said. "It was, 'Collect the data and do the best you can, because we have to start doing this.' "
The department has strengthened its information technology unit and recently provided racial stop data from 2013 in response to a public records request. But there was no analysis of the figures, which showed that black drivers made up 17 percent of stops, despite comprising 6 percent of the city's population.
In Berkeley, police officials could not say if the department had studied traffic stop data its officers collected over the years. Still, as in San Jose, Berkeley police recently expanded their program, opting to include pedestrian and bicyclist stops.
Officer Jennifer Coats, a Berkeley police spokeswoman, said the department is training its officers on their new responsibility. The City Council recommended consistent analysis of the data, and Coats said the department will be making the data "available for analysis and also to the public."
Oakland may be one of the furthest along in scrutinizing all kinds of stops by its officers. But that's largely because it was ordered to do so - 11 years ago - under a federal court settlement that stemmed from the Riders scandal, in which a group of officers was accused of abusing suspects in West Oakland.
Earlier this year, the department released detailed data that included information on why people were stopped and whether they were searched, from April to November 2013. African Americans, who make up 28 percent of the city's population, were the subject of 62 percent of stops.
An independent monitor overseeing Oakland's reforms said the city still needs to do internal reviews to "identify any disparities in its treatment of citizens." Davis, the ACLU attorney, said Oakland recently entered into a contract with a Stanford professor who will be studying the city's data.
"In Oakland, that only happened because of the (Riders) settlement," said John Burris, a civil rights attorney involved in the court-ordered reforms. "Without it, it never would have happened."
Burris said he had heard of few police departments that make use of stop data they collect. He said officers' relationship with the community suffers as a result.
"When you stop people without just cause and they believe it's racial profiling, it angers them," he said. "It's what's happening in Ferguson - all the frustration and anger, it becomes a powder keg."
In Ferguson, where the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown ignited violent protests, 86 percent of all police stops and 92 percent of searches last year were of black people, according to the Missouri attorney general. Sixty-seven percent of the city's population is black.
In an effort to do more with such figures, the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA has spoken to police chiefs around the country, including in Ferguson.
Phillip Atiba Goff, the center's head, said it plans to create a nationwide database, setting a standard for what information police should collecting and offering resources to do analysis. He said the costs of such studies are often outside a police department's budget - and its officers' expertise.
"So many police departments want to do the right thing and they recognize there's the opportunity to do better, but they can't do it on their own," he said.
Goff said a national database, funded by grants from nonprofit groups and the U.S. Department of Justice, would allow not only for comparisons across departments, but from neighborhood to neighborhood.
"When you understand the foundation of (people's) cooperation with the law, it's not the fear of punishment - it's the perception of law enforcement as legitimate and fair," he said. "If you're home and you're being attacked, you better hope the person who witnesses that trusts the police enough to call."
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