Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has ordered the city’s police force to back off on the number of traffic stops they conduct, after the Los Angeles Times declared that one unit has been pulling over a disproportionate number of African Americans.
“I have directed the Chief of Police to prioritize other elements of our comprehensive crime reduction strategy, beyond vehicle stops, until we learn more — so that we can accelerate the reduction in vehicle stops that has been achieved since they peaked a couple of years ago,” Garcetti said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
“We have made our streets safer with fewer vehicle stops than in recent years, and we have to keep prioritizing what works to both stop crime and strengthen trust,” the mayor added.
The directive was made after the Los Angeles Times published their “findings” that nearly half of the people being pulled over by the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Metropolitan Division have been black.
The African American population in the entire city of Los Angeles is nine percent, but constitute 28 percent of the LAPD’s traffic stops.
Sixty five percent of the motorists stopped in South Los Angeles were black, according to the paper.
That area of the city is 31 percent black.
The number of Metropolitan Division officers doubled in 2015, in an effort to combat violent crime increases in the area through proactive policing tactics.
The number of traffic stops made by the 270-member division increased from approximately 3,000 per year to over 60,000 in 2018.
The Los Angeles Times noted that their review was not proof that law enforcement officers have been racially profiling suspects, but civil rights groups claimed there is no other explanation.
However, no data was provided about the actual rate that black motorists commit violations in relation to other drivers, which could provide an actual explanation.
“To see that echoed in the L.A. Times is cause for alarm, but there is also an opportunity for the LAPD to do something different and change its practices and stop its targeting of African Americans in the city,” Community Coalition CEO Alberto Retana said, calling the findings “gut-wrenching.”
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Melanie Ochoa said that officers actively searching for people who might be violating the law is proof that “harassment and targeted policing are baked into the way [the department] operates,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“They like to claim a straight line from these tactics to a reduction in crime, but we don’t know if it’s actually borne out in practice,” Ochoa added.
On Tuesday, Retana and Ochoa’s groups, along with 10 other activist groups, sent a letter to Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore, Garcetti, and the Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, demanding that the mayor pull the Metropolitan Division out of South Los Angeles, KNBC reported.
“The deployment of the Metropolitan Division has failed to address safety in communities like South Los Angeles, but rather has led to the incarceration and harassment of African American and Latino people, exacerbating racial and wealth disparities,” the letter read, according to KCBS.
LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said that the department plans to speak with the groups about their concerns, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We look forward to meeting with the leaders who make up the Community Coalition to address their concerns identified over strategies we employ to combat violent crime,” Rubenstein said.
But he did not indicate that the division will be leaving South Los Angeles.
“We understand the delicate balance between our enforcement posture and our steadfast commitment to building relationships, engaging the community and enhancing public trust,” he said.
“Identifying and arresting individuals who are responsible for gun violence remains a top priority as in the days ahead we expand our strategies beyond the typical crime suppression tactics involving vehicle stops in our most violence impacted neighborhoods,” Rubenstein added.
The groups have also demanded that South Los Angeles be provided with more community policing, mental health services, and programs for youth.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said he has already spoken with Retana, and that they plan to continue their conversation in the near future.
“We get calls all the time from people saying we need a lot more cops, and we get calls from people saying we need less,” Soboroff told the Los Angeles Times. “What’s important is why people feel that way and what we can do to mitigate their feelings and earn their trust.”
The LAPD’s inspector general’s office had already begun auditing the Metropolitan Division’s traffic stops prior to the Los Angeles Times’ story, and plans to release its finding later this year.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) is fighting back against the underlying allegations that officers have been targeting people based on their race.
“Let’s be very clear,” the union said, according to KNBC. “Los Angeles police officers target behavior, not skin color.”
The LAPPL said the Los Angeles Times’ analysis of the Metropolitan Division’s data is “flawed, skewed, and nonsensical,” and that it “demonstrates the implicit bias some possess against reporting facts, put in the appropriate context, about Los Angeles Police Officers and how we do our jobs.”
According to the LAPPL, the paper selected data that aligned with its “preconceived false narrative.”
“That false narrative, promulgated by the Times and its deliberate omission of important contextual data, admittedly zero evidence and any semblance of fair analysis, is designed to paint Metropolitan Division officers as racists who randomly stop black drivers,” the union railed.
“That reckless charge is offensive, it's not true and is one of the worst kinds of lies anyone can tell,” the LAPPL said.