LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles police officers search blacks and Latinos far more often than whites during traffic stops, even though whites are more likely to be found with illegal items, a Los Angeles Times analysis has found.
The analysis, the first in a decade to calculate racial breakdowns of searches and other actions by LAPD officers after they pull over vehicles, comes amid growing nationwide scrutiny over racial disparities in policing.
The Times obtained the data used in its analysis under a new California law targeting racial profiling that requires the LAPD and other agencies to record detailed information about every traffic stop.
The Times analysis found that across the city, 24% of black drivers and passengers were searched, compared with 16% of Latinos and 5% of whites, during a recent 10-month period.
That means a black person in a vehicle was more than four times as likely to be searched by police as a white person, and a Latino was three times as likely.
Yet whites were found with drugs, weapons or other contraband in 20% of searches, compared with 17% for blacks and 16% for Latinos. The totals include both searches of the vehicles and pat-down searches of the occupants.
Racial disparities in search rates do not necessarily indicate bias. They could reflect differences in driving behavior, neighborhood crime rates and other factors.
But the lower contraband hit rates for blacks and Latinos raise serious questions about the law enforcement justification for searching them more often than whites, criminologists told The Times.
Stop-and-search statistics are commonly used by law enforcement agencies to gauge the disparate racial impacts of policing. The U.S. Department of Justice sometimes requires agencies with civil rights issues to collect and analyze the data.
But the LAPD's constitutional policing advisor said this type of analysis does not account for the complexities of a police officer's decisions in sizing up a situation and deciding how to deal with the people in a vehicle. Officers receive training on their own implicit biases and have a lawful basis for every stop and search they perform, said the advisor, Arif Alikhan, who recently left the LAPD.
Alikhan noted that the analysis includes stops where officers exercise little discretion and racial bias is less likely to be a factor, such as a search during an arrest.
“We don't pull people over based on race. We're not supposed to do that,” Alikhan said. “It's illegal. It's unconstitutional. And that's not the basis [on which] we do it.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti called the Times analysis “both important and timely” and said he is committed to “helping the LAPD make forward progress on issues of race and community relations.”
“I look forward to our Police Commission and department leaders using this information to improve best practices, and I expect the department to work consciously and even-handedly to earn the trust of every Angeleno, every day, with every interaction,” Garcetti said in a written statement.
According to the Times analysis of the new state data, black and Latino drivers and passengers were searched more often than whites in almost every part of the city.
Blacks and Latinos were more than three times as likely as whites to be removed from the vehicle and twice as likely to either be handcuffed or detained at the curb, the Times analysis found.
About 3% of blacks and Latinos stopped by the LAPD were arrested, compared with 2% of whites.
Overall, LAPD officers found contraband in 17% of the searches they performed. Most of the contraband was drugs or alcohol, while 9% was firearms.
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