LAPD Addresses Allegations Of Racial Bias At Police Commission Meeting
In September, the Police Commission proposed a meeting that would focus solely on how the LAPD handles allegations of biased policing (which, for the most part, means racial profiling). The idea was lobbed by commission member Cynthia McClain-Hill, then unanimously backed by the other members. On Tuesday, that meeting convened at City Hall, with LAPD brass presenting a report that says that, in the past four years, no allegation of police bias has been proven.
Usually, the commission holds its meetings at LAPD's downtown headquarters, but, considering the enormity of the topic, the venue was changed to accommodate a bigger crowd. According to the L.A. Times, the space was standing-room only, as it was filled with activists, community organizers, and residents who'd come to speak before the board.
At the meeting, department heads spoke at length about a recent, 143-page report that details the LAPD's handling of allegations of biased policing. The report indicates that, from 2011 to 2015, the department averaged more than 200 complaints a year of biased policing. None of these complaints were upheld, however. The closet this came to happening was when a "third party witness" had called in to report that, for three months, he had witnessed a LAPD officer conducting traffic stops on only Hispanic motorists. This complaint led to two allegations of biased policing, both of which were sustained by LAPD investigators. The allegations, however, were overturned in 2013 by the Board of Rights, which concluded that the officer was not guilty of the allegations. The officer, though, was still terminated because he was found to have made "false statements" during the review process.
The report, which was signed off by Police Chief Charlie Beck, also compared the LAPD with 10 other police agencies in large metropolitan areas. It said that, of the agencies reviewed, only three departments (as well as the LAPD) had chosen to sustain an allegation of biased policing since 2011. And, of those complaints, only four allegations were later upheld, according to the Times.
So what's with the disparity between the number of complaints and the number of proven allegations? The LAPD says that, ultimately, it's hard to prove that someone had acted with bias. "Whether an officer has engaged in a biased policing activity is often difficult to prove without direct evidence that the officer was motivated or specifically intended to discriminate against a suspect based on the suspect's race, ethnicity or another protected characteristic," said the report. It adds that, "When there is evidence of an explicit bias, however, such as the use of a racial slur or derogatory remark, the Department is able to take direct action against the officer."
Administrators also note that the LAPD takes steps to prevent biased policing. According to the report, the LAPD's hiring process includes a background investigation, a personal history statement, a polygraph test, and psychological testing. The department says that each of these steps may touch upon the topic of bias.
The report also dives into public perception of the LAPD. According to a 2016 survey conducted with over 2,000 residents (it was done over the phone), there was a larger sense of distrust among the African-American community. Across the different ethnic backgrounds included in the survey (they include white, Hispanic, and Asian, among others), at least 75% of participants said that officers "treat residents fair." Among African-Americans, however, 63.3% held the same opinion. When the question was changed to ask if officers "treat people of all races and ethnicities fairly," less than half of all participants (49.7%) said they agreed.
While administrators wrote that "the Department has made significant strides over the past decades to prevent and eliminate the type of bias and discriminatory actions that damaged its relationship with communities," some attendees at Tuesday's meeting said that the evidence suggests otherwise.
2. Alfonso told the board he's been stopped multiple times by same officer. "LAPD needs to change their reputation in my community."— Kate Mather (@katemather) November 15, 2016
3. After he spoke, Alfonso told me he was so nervous to enter room with so many police he first walked out, had to splash water on his face.— Kate Mather (@katemather) November 15, 2016
4. But, Alfonso said, he's glad the officers were there to hear his story and others. He thinks this meeting is a step toward change.— Kate Mather (@katemather) November 15, 2016
Reverend K.W. Tulloss, president of the Los Angeles chapter of Al Sharpton's National Action Network, echoed the sentiment that many in black communities see bias as a pressing issue with the LAPD. "They fear the police. They fear interacting with the police because of racial profiling," said Tulloss, as reported by the Times.
Melina Abdullah, an organizer for Black Lives Matters' Los Angeles chapter, told LAist after the meeting that she found the report to be misleading in its portrayal of the black community’s distrust of the LAPD. "[The department] tried to present it as a matter of perception, and not actual life experience,” said Abdullah. She added, "I think to make progress we need to be straight forward about what we’re talking about. They used the term 'police bias' instead of 'racial profiling,' which is problematic. They're not tackling the issue head-on."
"At the meeting, one professor said that implicit bias is there, whether or not you're willing to admit it," said Abdullah. "We need systemic remedies that prevent officers from engaging in actions rooted in their own biases. We need to recognize that communities suffer real-life traumas, and that this is also a public health issue."
At a press conference after the meeting, Beck was asked by a reporter if he thought that the report painted an "accurate" picture about biased policing in the LAPD. "I think it's an accurate picture of how difficult it is to determine a motivation for bias," said Beck. "It's hard to determine an officer's initial reason." When asked if he thinks the report suggests that bias is not a problem with the LAPD, he responded with, "If I thought there was no problem at all, I certainly would not have put all the resources that we have into training about implicit bias, and into investigating these complaints."