LAPD rejects study finding racial profiling by officers

Chief Bratton tells oversight panel that a Yale scholar’s report fails to take into account many important factors and is ‘of no value.’

By Joel Rubin
January 14, 2009

The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday rejected the findings of a study that found its officers frequently discriminate against African Americans and Latinos when making traffic and pedestrian stops.

Top LAPD officials, speaking before the civilian commission that oversees the department, acknowledged that minorities are more frequently subjected to searches and other action during stops than are whites, but dismissed the claim of widespread racial profiling among officers and defended the department’s efforts to address the issue. They also attacked the study, saying that analysis of data from traffic and pedestrian stops cannot accurately determine whether officers are biased.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said the study, released in October by Yale University legal scholar Ian Ayres and promoted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, was “of no value.”

“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,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of concerns about their conclusions. This department does not engage in racial profiling.”

Ayres did not respond to a request for comment.

The issue of racial profiling has been a contentious one for the LAPD in recent years. Commissioners reacted with disbelief last spring when it was reported that internal investigations had not found evidence to support any of the hundred racial profiling complaints made against officers in recent years.

The main objection by Bratton and others to Ayres’ report is that data on police stops do not adequately take into account other factors and circumstances that influence the officers’ actions. Police officials also said the statistics do not reflect the anti-bias training officers now receive or other changes, such as the recent launch of a program to install video cameras in patrol cars.

Working with data from five years ago, Ayres found that once stopped, African Americans were 29% more likely than whites to be arrested. Latinos were 32% more likely to be arrested in an identical category. He also found that blacks and Latinos were far more likely to be frisked or subjected to non-consensual searches than whites. At the same time, he concluded that officers were less likely to find weapons or drugs on blacks or Latinos than on whites when they frisked them or subjected them to consensual searches.

Peter Bibring, an ACLU attorney, countered LAPD officials’ comments, saying he was “deeply disappointed” in the department’s response. He defended the validity of Ayres’ work, saying the analysis does account for outside factors.

The commission listened to three hours of presentations from both sides of the debate. Much of the discussion centered on whether the data can be used effectively by supervisors to accurately identify officers who might be racially profiling people. The commission directed department officials to return in a month after further investigating the question.

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