Skip to main content

Watchdogs want answers on how San Francisco cops misreported race data

A man in a coat sits at a commission hearing.
Paul Henderson, executive director of the Department of Police Accountability, says officers are improperly or inaccurately capturing race data on the people they stop. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

A San Francisco police officer accused of misconduct for misreporting the races of people he stopped is not the only officer improperly capturing data meant to curb racial profiling, a police oversight official said Wednesday.

Department of Police Accountability head Paul Henderson said his agency has uncovered three ways officers inaccurately or improperly record the races of people they detain, search or pull over. Officers in San Francisco—as well as across California and in other states—are required to log such stops in a state database designed to track racial disparities.

Some officers are not reporting data they are required to enter into the state database. Others enter the wrong race of the person they stop, such as by marking white when a person is “clearly” Black, Henderson said. The third issue is with officers logging multiple races for a single person to “obscure any obvious or specific racial makeup,” he said.

“We take this very seriously,” Henderson said at the weekly Police Commission meeting Wednesday night. “The inaccuracy of this data speaks directly to the foundation of the groundbreaking legislation that was aimed at computing these systemic inequities in law enforcement.”

READ MORE: A San Francisco Police Officer Misreported the Races of People He Stopped. Did Others Do It, Too?

His comments came after The Standard reported Wednesday morning that the Department of Police Accountability found an officer committed misconduct by repeatedly entering the wrong races of people he stopped into the state database, even when he got the races right in police reports.

A data analysis by The Standard separately found that more officers may be inaccurately reporting race data than the one facing discipline. One sergeant, for example, reported that all but six of the 1,139 people he stopped during a roughly three-year period ending in 2021 were white. Three other officers consistently reported that people they stopped belonged to five, six or seven racial groups.

The findings by the Department of Police Accountability and reporting by The Standard spurred members of the Police Commission to call for a hearing on the issue and possibly an audit examining the full breadth of the problem.

Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto said he wanted the San Francisco Police Department to come up with a plan to address the issue and ensure that officers are not misreporting data.

“We are a policymaking body and can only make good policy if we are presented with good and reliable data,” Benedicto said. “When there are implications that there might be threats to the integrity of that data, those should be taken very seriously.”

A commissioner at a meeting.
Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto is calling for the San Francisco Police Department to address issues with its stop data. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Police Commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone put forward a possible audit of the issue, whether that be by the Department of Police Accountability, the city Controller’s Office, an outside partner or a combination thereof.

“The commission needs to take this issue up more fully, but I think that needs to be something on the table that we’re considering,” Carter-Oberstone said.

While Henderson said his agency is already investigating the issue, he embraced the idea of an audit and possibly partnering with another entity.

Assistant Police Chief David Lazar agreed that the department needed to address the issue. Lazar said SFPD already reviews the number of stops by officers to see whether that matches the amount of entries in the state database. But he said the department now needs to look at “what’s being entered versus who is being stopped.”

“There’s more work to be done based on what we’re discovering,” said Lazar, who was filling in for Police Chief Bill Scott at the commission hearing Wednesday. “We have to address it, and we have to make sure that those who are not doing it are held accountable.”

The investigation by the Department of Police Accountability was spurred by a complaint alleging that the officer searched and cited a person because of his race, according to a public summary of the findings.

While the summary did not name the officer, public records reviewed by The Standard indicated that the officer investigated may be Christopher Kosta, who graduated from the police academy in 2019. A police spokesperson said Kosta was sent to an administrative position in the records room in late June.

Kosta did not respond to requests for comment.

The accused officer denied stopping or searching the person because of his race and said he did not intend to alter race data, according to the summary of the investigation. The officer also said that he did not perceive race.

Police Commission records indicate that the officer has a disciplinary case before the body, which means he could face serious consequences, such as a suspension or termination.