Investigators looking into hundreds of thousands of police actions last year have found racial disparities across a broad group of traffic stops in Los Angeles, officials said Tuesday.
The report by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Office of the Inspector General found “racial disproportions in stops for every type of violation.”
People police believed were Black were overrepresented in these interactions across the city, while those they thought were white or Asian were “significantly underrepresented,” the analysis reveals.
The report focused on officer-initiated stops and also examined video from 190 incidents.
“Much of the overall disparity in stop frequency was driven by high rates of stops in areas that had both high levels of violent crime and comparatively high proportions of Black residents,” according to the report. “However, even in these areas, Black residents were overrepresented in the frequency of stops, including stops for traffic violations and other minor crimes.”
The OIG review noted limitations, such as how the residential demographic data it used for the analysis doesn’t indicate the actual rate at which different racial group commit crimes or the percentage of crimes that go unobserved by officers.
But the report found traffic stops of whites (and some other groups) were most likely to be related to how the suspects were driving, while Black and Hispanic people were most likely to be stopped for having expired vehicle registration documents, or some other regulatory or equipment violation.
And it said racial disparities were most clear when it came to police units focused on “crime suppression,” such as those specifically set up to dismantle gangs. Similar to with stops occurring in crime-ridden neighborhoods, those units issued citations less frequently.
Also, after being stopped, Black and Hispanic people were more likely to be asked to step out of their vehicle, to be searched or to have a Field Interview Report written about them.
“In general, people identified as Black or Hispanic — and particularly Black or Hispanic males — were more likely to be the subject of all types of post-stop activity than were people identified as White or another race,” the report states.
Among the top five types of violations, racial disparities in the rate of post-stop activity persisted even when looking at stops for the same type of violation.
“Racial differences persisted even for searches considered to be more discretionary, such as consensual searches or searches based on generalized officer safety concerns,” the report states. “In contrast, there was less disparity in searches designated as lower-discretion, such as those incident to an arrest, pursuant to a warrant, or in conjunction with the impounding of a vehicle.”
Searches of Black and Hispanic people were less likely to be associated with the recovery of illegal items than when white people were searched.
When it came to serious contraband items such as firearms, about two out of every 100 searches turned one up, and this only varied a little by race. Black and Hispanic people were slightly more likely to be associated with the recovery of firearms than searches of other groups, according to the analysis.
The report, put out by Police Commission Inspector General Mark Smith, concluded that some of the racial disparities “were the result of strategies designed to use these violations as a pretext to identify or suppress more serious crimes,” but says they are “on balance, of limited effectiveness in identifying evidence of illegal firearms or other serious crimes.”
The Los Angeles Police Department said it will conduct a detailed review of the report, findings and recommendations.
“As stated in the OIG report, racial disparities are not easily understood as the two most frequently identified comparisons of stops are inherently imperfect,” an LAPD statement said. “Additionally, while the report identified disparate impacts relative to the number of stops involving people of color, the report did not find disparate treatment of those individuals who were stopped. Officers generally did not know the race of the person prior to the stop and actions did not vary significantly by race.
“We are working closely with our Board of Police Commissioners and the Office of the Inspector General to identify methods to improve the accuracy of stop data, as well as pursue recommendations from the report regarding post stop activities,” the statement continued.
“This department is committed to reduce racial disparities from stops or other actions, whenever possible, while continuing to evaluate the outcomes of various crime reduction strategies, as well as creating additional metrics related to building community engagement and trust.”