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Criminal Justice

Black People — Just 2% Of Beverly Hills Residents — Made Up Nearly 90% of Arrests By Rodeo Drive Police Unit

A Black man with a mask around his chin and his hands behind his back speaks to a police officer with another officer in the background.
A screenshot of Beverly Hills police body cam footage shows Salehe Bembury, vice president of Sneakers and Men’s Footwear for Versace, being stopped by officers after he left the company’s store in October 2020.
(Beverly Hills Police Dept.)
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Nearly all of the people arrested by a special unit of the Beverly Hills Police Department assigned to Rodeo Drive during a two-month period last year were Black, according to data provided by the city.

We requested the information after two people filed a class-action lawsuit accusing police of targeting Black people on the world-famous street because of their race.

The data shows 80 of the 90 people who were arrested were Black. Three were white. Almost all of those arrested were males between the ages of 18 and 30.

Two percent of the city’s residents identify as Black and 78% identify as white, according to the 2020 Census.

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The eight-officer Rodeo Drive Team (RDT) was created in August 2020 in response to an increase in reports of crime on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills police spokesman Keith Sterling said in a statement. “The team was formed to mitigate specific crime trends in a specific location,” he said.

The RDT mission statement we obtained said it would fight crime “while protecting the constitutional rights of all people.” It was disbanded after two months.

The data is more evidence Beverly Hills cops are engaging in racial profiling, said Bradley Gage, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. “The numbers confirm what we’ve been saying,” he said.

‘Shopping While Black’?

Gage accused police of stopping and arresting people for “shopping while Black.” Attorney Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is another of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

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In its Operational Plan, the RDT was to focus on quality-of-life crimes, including jaywalking, smoking marijuana in public, and skateboarding on the sidewalk, as well as theft-related crimes.

The unit arrested people on suspicion of a variety of offenses — including quality of life crimes. But 13 people allegedly were found to be carrying a concealed weapon or to be a felon in possession of a firearm, according to police. Some were arrested on suspicion of multiple offenses.

Many faced one common accusation: that they were involved in Employment Development Department fraud, according to Sterling. Police filed 59 charges for identity theft and 39 for conspiracy.

The alleged scam “was almost exclusively perpetrated using EDD cards which were fraudulently obtained using someone’s stolen identity,” Sterling said.

The majority of people arrested were not residents of California and many used a Beverly Hills residence as a fake address, according to Sterling. The residence received 358 pieces of mail from the EDD addressed to 93 different people. The city “had become a hub for EDD fraud,” he said.

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Police Acted ‘Regardless Of Race’

But none of this explains why almost everybody who was arrested was Black, said Gage. He believes Beverly Hill police stopped Black people because officers believed they were most likely to commit EDD fraud, “which is racist,” he said.

Stops for minor infractions were a pretext, Gage said.

“If they stopped every person in the city of Beverly Hills for the same reason, undoubtedly you would have more than just three Caucasians that were found to have committed a crime,” he said, adding that Black people face a “greater level of scrutiny” than white people in the city.

Sterling maintained officers enforce the law “regardless of race.”

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RODEO DRIVE TEAM ARREST INFORMATION

  • Black: 80
  • White: 3
  • Latino: 4
  • Vietnamese: 2
  • Other: 1

(Data from City of Beverly Hills)

More than a year after the arrests, Sterling said the city is aware of at least 10 cases that have been prosecuted by the District Attorney's office — that’s about 11% of the people arrested.

‘A Much More Serious Problem’

Last month, Gage and Crump filed a claim for damages on behalf of a couple who were arrested by the RDT. Jasmine William, 30, and Khalil White, 24, were stopped while riding a motor scooter. The two were charged with two misdemeanors — riding a scooter on the sidewalk and resisting arrest. Khalil spent the night in jail. Williams spent about eight hours behind bars.

The lawyers filed another claim Tuesday on behalf of Joseph Nett, who said he and his girlfriend were stopped because their car was a few inches into the crosswalk on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The incident happened a couple of weeks before the Rodeo Drive Team was established. Nett spent three days in jail but was never charged with a crime, according to Gage.

A claim typically is a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit.

“This is a much more serious problem than initially anticipated,” he said.

In a statement, the city said Nett, who was a passenger in the car, was found to be “in violation of a restraining order obtained by the female driver.”

“While the woman indicated she did not wish to press charges, for her safety and according to the law, Mr. Nett was taken into custody,” it said.

The Operational Plan for the RDT provided to us blacked out the names of the officers involved and their chain of command. A police spokesman said the unit’s leader was Capt. Scott Dowling, who announced his retirement shortly after attorneys filed their initial complaint in May.

The department has been plagued by leadership problems recently.

Beverly Hills Assistant Police Chief Marc Coopwood abruptly announced his resignation in August. It’s not clear whether it was related to the lawsuit. A post on the police department's Facebook page says Coopwood was resigning “to pursue other opportunities in the private sector."

Former Chief Sandra Spagnoli resigned in April of last year after lawsuits accused her of making racist and anti-Semitic comments to colleagues.

City officials announced earlier this month that they've hired San Diego Harbor Police Department Chief Mark Stainbrook, a former LAPD lieutenant, as the new chief.

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Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.