Los Angeles Police Stop and Search Black and Latino Drivers More Often, Even Though Whites Have More Illegal Items

Blacks and Latinos in L.A. are over three times more likely to be stopped and searched while driving in comparison to their white counterparts, a recent analysis from the Los Angeles Times has revealed—and yet, whites are more likely to be found carrying illicit goods.

Within a 10-month period starting in July 2018, police stopped and searched 24 percent of black drivers and passengers, 16 percent of Latinos and just 5 percent of whites. The searches counted in the analysis include those of the vehicle as well as pat-down searches of the drivers and/or passengers.

As Times authors Ben Poston and Cindy Chang point out, racial disparities do not necessarily show there is racial bias—other factors such as neighborhood crime rates for example, may have played a role. However, the analysis also highlights differences in "hit rates": 17 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Latinos stopped and searched were found with contraband such as drugs and weapons, compared to 20 percent of whites.

What's more, the analysis found blacks and Latinos were over three times more likely to be removed from the vehicle, twice more likely to be handcuffed and also faced higher odds of arrest—3 percent for black and Latinos versus 2 percent for whites.

"Today's Los Angeles Times damning report confirms what many city residents know far too well," a spokesperson from PUSH L.A. (Promoting Unity Safety & Health Los Angeles) said in a statement. "Police Department officers target Black and Latinx drivers and passengers in pretextual stops and searches."

Equipment violations—frequently used as a ploy to determine if anything more serious is going on—was used to justify 20 percent of vehicle stops of black and Latino drivers and passengers, versus 11 percent of white drivers and passengers. An equipment violation, in this case, could refer to a defective tail light or an expired driving license.

Stop and Search in LA
More than 385,000 drivers and passengers were stopped by the LAPD between July 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019. Of those, 27 percent were black (compared to 9 percent of the population), 47 percent were Latino (roughly equivalent to the population),18 percent were white (28 percent of the population) and 4 percent were non-South Asian Asians (11 percent of the population). Robert Nickelsberg/Getty

The stats were calculated from data collected by a Californian law that requires officers to detail every traffic stop, a policy that is designed to monitor racial profiling. It is the first in a decade, they say, that attempts to quantify the racial breakdowns of stop and search actions by L.A. traffic cops, including more than 385,000 incidents of stop and search within a 10-month time-frame.

Activists told the paper these disparities highlight concerns that police officers in the city may be singling out individuals based on their race—an issue that could create or exacerbate problems of trust in black and Latino communities.

Meanwhile, those in the L.A. Police Department say the numbers on their own do not reveal the complexities in the decision-making that takes place when an officer chooses to perform a stop and search. Cops have to have a lawful basis for each stop and search, LAPD's constitutional policing advisor Arif Alikhan told the Times.

"As the LA Times has previously reported, the disparities neither prove nor disprove racial profiling or other improper action by the Department or individual officer involved," LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in a written statement.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also responded to the analysis with a written statement, saying the report is "important and timely."

"I am committed to helping the LAPD make forward progress on issues of race and community relations—and bring about more reflective and impactful interactions between officers and the people they protect and serve," said Garcetti. The Inspector General is looking into the issue of vehicle stops, he added.