The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department warning that it must take a stronger stance against racial profiling.
Recently a recorded conversation of two LAPD officers was released where they were being dismissive of complaints of racial profiling. One argued that he “couldn’t do [his] job without racially profiling.”
An independent study conducted by a Yale Law scholar in 2008 found that for every 10,000 residents in Los Angeles, about 3,400 more blacks are stopped than whites. Blacks are also 127 percent more likely to be frisked, 76 percent more likely to be searched and 29 percent more likely to be arrested than stopped whites. Still, they were 42.3 percent less likely to be found with weapons after being frisked, 25 percent less likely to be found with drugs and 33 percent less likely to be found with other contraband.
The LAPD dismissed the study, with Police Chief William J. Bratton commenting, “We live in an imperfect world. There are many issues and questions for which unfortunately there are no perfect answers. This issue of bias and profiling is one of those issues…This department does not engage in racial profiling.”
Besides the taped conversation, another incident cited by the Department of Justice is when the LAPD pulled a Latino man over for a broken brake light. The police asked the man if he was in a gang and checked to see if he had any outstanding warrants. “The investigating officer never asked the officers involved what prompted them to look behind them to actually observe a non-working brake light,” the Justice officials wrote. “The investigator accepted the officers’ single-word answers of ‘No’ to the question whether race was a factor in the stop.”
From 2001 to 2009, the LAPD was under a federal consent decree following the Rampart scandal, where over 70 officers were convicted of offenses including dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury and unprovoked beatings and shootings. The decree was lifted when the U.S. District Court judge found that the LAPD had completed most of its required reforms, but still asked federal authorities to monitor the department’s actions towards racial profiling.
The L.A. Times reports:
Police commissioners have grown frustrated with the department’s work on racial profiling. At a meeting earlier this month, the commission’s president, John Mack, and Commissioner Rob Saltzman questioned whether police officials were doing enough. They noted that no officer has been found guilty of racial profiling by an LAPD investigation for years, despite numerous complaints each year.
Police leaders have long argued that because racial profiling hinges on what an officer was thinking in the moment, it is all but impossible to determine if he or she racially profiled someone unless there is a confession….”I’ve heard many times that we can’t get inside an officer’s head, but somehow, some way, we need to figure out a way to get to the facts,” Mack said. “I’m not talking about a witch hunt, but I am talking about reaching a point where we can say with confidence that these claims have been very fairly and very thoroughly investigated.”