Christal Mims, Staff

A report by the LAPD Inspector General Mark Smith’s office found that racial disparities identified in an L.A. Times investigation were partially a result of failed strategies to use traffic and other minor violations “as a pretext to identify or suppress more serious crimes.” An independent review of thousands of stops conducted by L.A. police officers showed Black and Latino drivers being stopped more frequently than white drivers and experiencing more invasive searches and questioning.

After the Times reported on the racial disparities in 2019, the LAPD cut back on vehicle stops – as instructed by Mayor Eric Garcetti – and admitted the strategy had been ineffective. They also reassigned elite Metropolitan Division crime suppression officers to other duties.

While Black and Latino drivers were pulled over more often, they were less likely to be caught with contraband, and were “of limited effectiveness in identifying evidence of illegal firearms or other serious crimes.” The report also found that only 2 percent of traffic stops resulted in arrest.

“Some of these actions appeared to be based on a person’s behavior or criminal background, including the fact that a person was on parole or probation for a serious crime or admitted to being a member of a criminal gang. In other instances, however, these actions were more discretionary and appeared to be part of a strategy to identify weapons, involvement in a violent crime, or gang-related intelligence,” the inspector general’s report said. “In some cases, the officers making the stop also acknowledged to the stopped person that the basis for the stop was a pretext, and the officers may not have even mentioned the initial violation at all during the stop.”

Units specifically assigned to suppress crime also made more stops in communities of color with high crime rates and were more likely to question people about their backgrounds, their parole or probation status and their criminal records. Those stopped were also subject to other tactics such as handcuffing, forcing them to face a wall or checking tattoos.

The report also suggests that a large number of stops have gone unreported. A video review from almost 200 stops found that LAPD officers had severely underreported the number of people they had stopped and searched; the officers failed to document searches for 23 percent of the people being searched on camera.

As a result of these findings, the inspector general’s office made several recommendations including that LAPD aim to eliminate or lessen racial disparities in stops by continuing to “refocus its crime fighting strategies away from the use of pretextual stops — particularly those pretextual stops based on minor equipment or regulatory violations, which more heavily impact low-income communities.”

They also suggested LAPD have a more thorough and accurate documentation of stops made and events that took place during the stop, as community members have reported feeling unsafe and racially profiled after being pulled over.

Other suggestions included developing a policy that “consolidates and sets forth clear guidelines and parameters about post-stop activities such as removing a person from their vehicle, conducting pat-downs and other searches, completing (field interview) cards, and handcuffing individuals, including consideration of any officer safety issues that must be taken into account.”

The report was requested by the Police Commission and will be on the agenda for the commission’s upcoming meeting during which Smith and his staff will detail their findings.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore will also reportedly address the findings.