Times are changing, as once upon a time a report like the one last week in the LA Times about an elite LAPD unit disproportionately stopping black motorists would have resulted in a shrug. Instead, on Monday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called for an audit of stops by the elite Metro Division in response to the Times investigation.
In announcing his audit, Mayor Garcetti said that the report which found blacks stopped at rates five times their share of the population is “something that troubles me and is deeply concerning.”
“Trust is essential to our public safety, and every Angeleno deserves to be offered dignity and respect,” Mayor Garcetti said at a news conference Monday morning on 2018 crime statistics.
The Times report found that in response to a surge in violent crime, the police department doubled the size of its Metro Division, “creating special units to swarm crime hot spots.” It is not clear how effective the ramp up was, the Times noted, “Crime continued to rise for several years before dipping in 2018.”
However, they found, “Metro officers stop African American drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the city’s population.” They write: “Nearly half the drivers stopped by Metro are black, which has helped drive up the share of African Americans stopped by the LAPD overall from 21% to 28% since the Metro expansion, in a city that is 9% black, according to the analysis.”
Furthermore, “Metro makes most of its vehicle stops in South Los Angeles, which is almost one-third African American. But even there, the percentage of black drivers stopped by Metro is twice their share of the population, the analysis found.
“The data analyzed by The Times do not show why an officer pulled over a driver. It does not contain information about whether a driver was searched, ticketed or arrested after the stop. Nor can the data prove that Metro officers are engaged in racial profiling.”
Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney, called it “stop-and-frisk in a car.
“Do you want the trust of the poorest communities, that are the root of the  riots, or do you continue … massive stop-policing that creates mistrust?” she added.
Meanwhile, Chief Michel Moore said that Metro command staff “is very aware of the potential of people viewing them as over-policing or being overly harsh.”
But he argued that “intense policing is necessary in high-crime areas to keep residents safe.
“A person who’s living in these … communities is experiencing a disproportionate level of violence than other Angelenos and is suffering from that,” he said. “And the symptom, that means there are more police officers there. It’s been my experience that that’s where the community wants us. The people who are experiencing the violence are asking for us to be there to help them.”
He noted that “LAPD officers are trained to recognize their own implicit racial bias and that the department conducts random reviews to ensure that stops are constitutional.
“We can and should look at the conduct of officers that conduct frequent proactive activity to ensure that there’s a fairness when they’re exercising discretion, that it’s not just hunch policing, that they’re not just stopping everything that moves, per se, because that’s not lawful or right,” Chief Moore said.
It turns out that LAPD is not the only culprit here.
The ACLU in Illinois released a report in early January that examined Illinois traffic stop data from law enforcement agencies between 2015 and 2017, and “highlights significant racial disparities persist in traffic stops.”
Following other studies, they find, “Black and Latinx drivers are more likely to be asked to consent to a search, but white drivers are more likely to be found with contraband during a consent search.”
Black and Latino drivers were asked to consent to a search about 1.7 and 1.3 times more often than white drivers but when officers performed consent searches, white drivers were found with contraband about 1.3 times more often than both Black and Latino drivers.
The report notes, “In 2017, some law enforcement agencies grossly exceeded these averages — asking Black and Latinx drivers to consent to searches up to 9 and 11 times more often than white drivers. Again, these disparities can’t be justified by higher rates of finding contraband.”
Rachel Murphy, a Staff Attorney with ACLU of Illinois, wrote, “Consent searches raise serious civil liberties concerns because officers can seek consent without having a legal justification for the search and the circumstances in which they seek consent — usually on a roadside, in an isolated, one-on-one encounter where the officer has already ordered the person where to sit or stand — are inherently coercive.”
She writes, “It’s all in the hands of the cops, making abuses of the law inevitable. Seeing disparities in these kinds of discretionary searches suggests that officers are using race and ethnicity instead of legitimate law enforcement considerations when making the decision to request a search.”
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Chief Moore acknowledged on Monday that the findings by the Times “renews an important question” dealing with “how law enforcement strategies affect public trust and the safety of those who live in neighborhoods affected by violent crime.
“I look forward to a more expansive conversation on the topic,” Chief Moore said. “Critically important is that the communities of South Los Angeles, and particularly the African American community, have confidence that this department’s efforts are genuine and intended to save lives.”
He later argued, that the question of whether Metro should stop so many black drivers is “far more complex than the use of the simple comparison made in the L.A. Times report.
“We know the incidence of violent crime does not strictly follow the proportionality of the ethnic makeup of a community. Neither should our enforcement strategies,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting