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Watchdog’s Report Finds Racial Disparities In LAPD Traffic Stops

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The Los Angeles Police Department headquarters is located in downtown LA. Andrew Cullen for LAist Andrew Cullen/Andrew Cullen for LAist
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A new report from the Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General found racial disparities in both the frequency of police traffic stops and post-stop activity.

The study compared the racial breakdown of stops in L.A. to the demographic makeup of the city’s population. Of 672,569 officer-initiated stops in 2019, the study found that 27% of the people were perceived to be Black, in a city where Blacks represent just 9% of the population.

“When comparing these two sets of numbers, we noted that people identified as Black were substantially overrepresented in the number of officer-initiated stops made in Los Angeles, while those identified as White or Asian were underrepresented,” Assistant Inspector General Camelia Naguib told the Police Commission.

The report found 46% of the people stopped were perceived to be Hispanic, 18% were perceived to be White and 4% Asian.

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The report found that Black and Hispanic people who were stopped were more likely to have both their person and property searched than White people were.

The study comes after the L.A. Times reported last year that LAPD cops “search Blacks and Latinos far more often than whites during traffic stops.”

Among other things, the report recommends moving away from pretextual stops — stops for minor violations that are initiated in an attempt to prevent more serious crimes. Pretextual stops “appear to have a disparate impact on certain racial groups, and ... also appear to be relatively ineffective in identifying more serious crimes,” the report said.

“[M]any people who have been subjects of pretextual stops consider them to be humiliating, demeaning, and unfair, particularly when officers’ actions during the stops did not appear to be warranted by the behavior of the stopped person,” it said.

The report recommended the LAPD weigh the use of pretextual stops against their impact on community trust.

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The report indicates that "lower-level traffic stops are not correlated to crime suppression [and] arrests," said Commission President Eileen Decker.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore acknowledged that his department needs “to take a closer look” at the report’s findings regarding stops “for the basis of equipment violations and minor offenses, particularly in communities of color.” He said there’s “much work” to be done in further analyzing the data.

The largest number of stops in 2019 occurred in South Central and South L.A., the report found, with West L.A. seeing the lowest number.

The Police Commission plans to vote Nov. 17 on possible actions in response to the report.

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