Study: L.A. cops stop more blacks than whites
October 20, 2008
LOS ANGELES – The city’s police officers are more likely to stop and search black and Latino residents than they are whites, even though whites are more often found carrying guns and contraband, according to a report released Monday by a civil liberties group.
“The results of this study raise grave concerns that African-Americans and Hispanics are overstopped, overfrisked, oversearched and overarrested,” report author Ian Ayres, a Yale Law School economist and professor, said while disclosing the results.
Ayres’ report, published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, analyzed the Los Angeles Police Department’s own accounts of 810,000 pedestrian and motor-vehicle stops in the year from July 2003 to June 2004.
Even after researchers controlled for demographics and neighborhood crime rates, they found significantly higher stop rates for black and Latino residents. For every 10,000 residents, blacks were nearly three times more likely to be stopped than white and other “nonminority” residents, facing 3,400 more stops. Latinos were stopped on 350 more occasions.
“These stark statistics … give a numeric lens for the lived experience of ‘driving while black’ or ‘driving while Hispanic,’ ” Ayres wrote in his report.
Even though Ayres used the LAPD’s own data, his findings were at odds with an earlier analysis carried out for the department. The LAPD acknowledged racial disparities in some divisions but, after controlling for several variables, found “no consistent pattern of race effects.”
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Ayres, however, said one officer stopped more than 100 blacks and 100 Latinos but only one white. The professor did not include that officer in his analysis because it was an extreme situation and could skew results.
A summary of Ayres’ report states that during the past five years, the LAPD has received nearly 1,200 citizen complaints alleging racial profiling, but the department hasn’t sustained a single one.
“Los Angeles officials have yet to acknowledge the scope of the problem of racially biased policing or to fully embrace solutions,” the summary stated.
Police Chief William Bratton said he disagrees strongly with the report’s findings and interpretation.
“This department does not engage in racial profiling, has not. We have significant safeguards built in to protect against that,” Bratton said Monday at a news conference. “Nobody investigates allegations of racial bias or racial profiling more aggressively than this department, this commission and this inspector general.”
Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League union, strongly disputed the report’s findings and pointed out that the department mirrors the racial demographics of Los Angeles, with more Latino officers than white officers.
“Dr. Ayres is trying to manipulate existing data to prove what 9,700 individual officers are thinking when they make traffic stops – which is an exercise that might work on a spreadsheet at Yale but doesn’t work on the streets of Los Angeles,” Sands said.
Not only were blacks and Latinos more likely to be stopped than whites, they also faced increased odds of being ordered out of their car, frisked, searched and arrested. Black residents were 29 percent more likely than whites to be arrested, and Latino residents were 32 percent more likely to be arrested, the report found.
Whites who were searched were more likely than blacks and Latinos to be carrying guns and contraband. This shows police officers have a higher threshold for searching whites, so searches of that race are more likely to yield results, ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said.
“That result shows they are using a different standard when searching African-Americans and Latinos than they do when searching white people,” Bibring said. “That kind of difference in treatment raises fundamental concerns about equal protection under the law.”
Glauz Diego, 23, of South Los Angeles said he and his peers were routinely stopped, even when they had not committed a traffic violation.
“I have never been arrested. I work hard … to support my family,” said Diego, who is black. “Yet I am viewed as a criminal by the LAPD in the community I live in.”
ACLU legal director Mark Rosenbaum said Police Chief William Bratton and his department had taken positive steps in recent years but more needed to be done.
“These are very disturbing conclusions,” Rosenbaum said. “It suggests that race matters. … It suggests that we do not yet have a colorblind LAPD.”
The ACLU has sent a letter to the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the Police Department, asking for several changes, including better anti-bias training for officers and an improved complaints procedure.