Racial Profiling in the LAPD

In any individual case, it's difficult to prove that racial profiling motivated a traffic stop. Law enforcement agencies seize upon that difficulty to argue that racial profiling doesn't occur. That was the response of the Los Angeles Police Department to a report (pdf) by Ian Ayres and Jonathan Borowsky for the ACLU of Southern California. Among the report's significant findings:

Per 10,000 residents, the black stop rate is 3,400 stops higher than the white stop rate, and the Hispanic stop rate is almost 360 stops higher. Relative to stopped whites, stopped blacks are 127% more likely and stopped Hispanics are 43% more likely to be frisked.

Despite the absence of empirical evidence that black or Hispanic drivers are more likely to violate traffic laws than white drivers, the LAPD refuses to acknowledge that the statistics reveal an underlying problem of racial profiling. [more ...]

More telling than the stop statistics are the frisk statistics and the outcomes of the frisks. Police officers aren't supposed to frisk a subject who has been stopped unless the officer reasonably suspects the subject is armed. What is it about being black or Hispanic that makes officers more suspicious that subject has a weapon?

The study demonstrates that the higher frisk rate for black and Hispanic subjects of traffic stops is not justified by the results of the searches.

Frisked African Americans are 42.3% less likely to be found with a weapon than frisked whites and that frisked Hispanics are 31.8% less likely to have a weapon than frisked non-Hispanic whites.

The sensible conclusion is that LAPD officers as a whole tend to be more suspicious of black and Hispanic drivers, and that the greater suspicion is unfounded. As Ayres explains:

It is implausible that higher frisk and search rates are justified by higher minority criminality, when these frisks and searches are substantially less likely to uncover weapons, drugs, or other types of contraband. Independent of racial disparity, it is a sign of ineffective policing to have officers engage in such a large number of fruitless searches.

LAPD rejects the study, noting that it is based on four-year-old data. That argument is disingenuous, given LAPD's refusal to release more recent data about the department's stops and frisks.

This is the bottom line:

The report shows that people of color in Los Angeles experience harsher treatment by police that doesn’t appear to be justified by any legitimate law-enforcement concerns. The L.A.P.D. can’t just deny that racism is involved and let the matter rest; it should take steps to address that inequality.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I don't need stats to know.... (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 02:39:37 PM EST
    people of color are more likely to get the business from the people in blue...I only need eyes.

    Maybe so, however this "analysis" (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 03:28:25 PM EST
    was done by Ian Ayers, a well-published prof and author and a rabid liberal who's life - if his books and articles are any indication - are consumed by a desire to look for and find racism, sexism, ageism, ad nauseism.

    iow, he is completely biased, making him the perfect candidate to do a racism "analysis" for the ACLU.


    Point taken... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 03:38:40 PM EST
    I totally agree about stats...they can be manipulated to say pretty much whatever you want.

    My broken-record point was simply...ah, you've heard it all from me before old friend:)


    Raw data is linked in the report (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by abdiel on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 04:03:40 PM EST
    I think the statistical analysis in the report is not well-grounded and multiple regressions were used to confirm predetermined outcomes.

    But LAPD's response is even more lame, especially since it does seem like they have a problem with the black community.  Oversuspicion and inefficient searches of black or Hispanic drivers is a waste of police resources.  

    The difficulty is in answering the question "What do you want us to do about it?".  The report doesn't offer any suggestions that LAPD can use, especially if officers are stung by being labeled a bunch of racists.

    Dead link. (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 04:25:45 PM EST
    To be fair, (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 04:50:14 PM EST
    I think that summation of Bratton's response is what Ayers said he said.

    What he really said was this:

    Police Chief William Bratton said he disagrees strongly with the report's findings and interpretation.
    "This department does not engage in racial profiling, has not.

    We have significant safeguards built in to protect against that," Bratton said Monday at a press conference.

    "Nobody investigates allegations of racial bias or racial profiling more aggressively than this department, this commission and this inspector general."

    Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League union, strongly disputed the report's findings and pointed out that the department mirrors the racial demographics of Los Angeles, with more Hispanic officers than white officers.

    "Dr. Ayres is trying to manipulate existing data to prove what 9,700 individual officers are thinking when they make traffic stops -- which is an exercise that might work on a spreadsheet at Yale, but doesn't work on the streets of Los Angeles," Sands said.

    I'd sure love to see the actual data (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 01:42:26 PM EST
    instead of someone's interpretation of that data.

    Did you click on (none / 0) (#2)
    by eric on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 01:54:28 PM EST
    the report?  It's all there.

    of the raw data into statistical sets that strive to answer the questions and/or support contentions that the ACLU commissioned the analysis for.

    iow, in the report linked to, the data has been compiled into certain narrowly-defined statistics. As Mark Twain said; "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."


    I read it the same way (none / 0) (#5)
    by roy on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 03:21:41 PM EST
    For instance, this:

    Frisked African Americans are 42.3% less likely to be found with a weapon than frisked whites...

    ... made me wonder what percentage of frisks revealed weapons.  If 95% of frisked whites and 53.7% of frisked blacks had weapons, the disparity still needs explaining, but the numbers are probably still consistent with "reasonable suspicion".  Conversely, if it's 45% for whites and 2.7% for blacks, I think there are some cops out there who should go to jail.

    And how is "X% less" defined?  If "X is Y% less than Z", does that mean p(x) = p(z) - y/100, or p(x) = p(z) * (100-y) / 100?


    Hmm, no idea. (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 03:36:41 PM EST
    I usually choose answer "C" when I don't know. :-)

    Not sure it at all matters, our Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, used to be President of the LA chapter of the ACLU...


    From the LA Times: (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 04:35:53 PM EST
    The study found that LAPD officers are more likely to stop, frisk and arrest minorities than they are whites.

    It also found that officers were less likely to find weapons or drugs on blacks or Latinos during these searches, implying that the searches were unfounded.

    That sounds damning, and maybe it is. But an analysis of the same data conducted by a Times staff member put the information in a broader context.

    Yes, officers stop minorities more often, but the number of searches closely correlates with the number of crimes committed in a given police reporting district -- an area about the size of a census tract.

    Without more information, it's impossible to determine whether officers are stopping people solely because of race, or -- as blacks and Latinos are more likely to live in districts with higher crime rates -- because officers are working higher numbers of cases.

    The ACLU report says it considered that (none / 0) (#13)
    by roy on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 04:55:13 PM EST
    Instead of taking the stopping behavior of the LAPD as given, we ask whether, controlling for crime rates in particular areas, African Americans and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be stopped.

    Most, if not all, of the conclusions in the report are in the context of controlling for crime rates.  I can't vouch for the math, but I put more stock in the analysis of a professor with a background in economics than in that of an unnamed "Times staff member".


    Good catch. (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 27, 2008 at 05:07:37 PM EST
    And I'm too lazy to do any more of my own reading/researching/fact-checking...

    The LA Times article was, on the whole, pretty critical of the LAPD so I'm not sure why they would write something that's so easily refuted.

    They even gave Bratton a slap at the end:

    The real problem seems to be that for all its efforts, the LAPD does not yet know how to detect and quantify disparate treatment. Ian Ayres, the professor who prepared the ACLU report, says he can help, and the department should take him up on his offer

    Ian Ayres, Social Scientist (none / 0) (#15)
    by nstix on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:52:10 PM EST
    Ayres pulled the stunt typical of these phony "racial profiling" studies. He compared frequency of police stops/searches/arrests of minorities with the minority proportion of the population, rather than with the proportion of offenders decribed by crime victims and/or witnesses as minority group members.

    He wants to offer a hand up to black and Hispanic criminals.

    More Racial Profiling Pseudo-Science