For years, many black and Latino residents of Los Angeles have complained of racial profiling by police officers. They say police pull them over for little or no reason and harass them. LAPD Chief Bill Bratton says that may have happened in the past, but it doesn't happen on any systemic basis today. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports on a new study that suggests racial profiling remains a serious problem at the department.
Frank Stoltze: A few weeks ago, 23-year-old Glauz Diego was driving to his girlfriend's house in South L.A. when a police car pulled up behind him. He says the officer stopped him in his girlfriend's driveway.
Glauz Diego: He actually grabbed me out of my car, slammed me next to a gated fence, and he handcuffed me. And he told me that the reason why he pulled me over was because I was in a gang territory, and I was wearing a hat, and he suspected that I was a gang member.
Stoltze: Diego was wearing a Yankees baseball cap. The officer told him that's what the local gang wears. Diego – a Cal State L.A. graphic design student and community activist – says LAPD's pulled him over for no good reason five times this year.
Diego: You know, I'm just a young man, you know, who's working hard. I'm going to school, you know, just trying to be a productive member of my community.
Stoltze: And in this case you were just trying to visit your girlfriend?
Diego: Uh, yes. (chuckles) Exactly. And it was embarrassing because her mother was outside, she was outside. And actually, I was meeting her mom for the first time.
Stoltze: Diego attended a news conference where Yale Law Professor Ian Ayres released a study on the LAPD. The study found LAPD officers are more likely to stop and frisk blacks and Latinos than they are whites, even when the crime rates in different neighborhoods are factored in.
Two statistics that stand out: officers are three times more likely to stop African-Americans, and more than 130 percent more likely to order Latinos out of their car during a stop. Ayres says that because officers so often stop and frisk blacks and Hispanics, cops proportionately find more weapons or drugs when they stop whites.
Ian Ayres: When you turn around and look at the fruits of the search, you find out that it's systematically less productive with regard to minorities. And this suggests that the police aren't requiring as much probable cause in order to provoke a search or a frisk.
Stoltze: The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California commissioned the study. ACLU Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum says its evidence racial profiling exists within the LAPD. Police Chief Bill Bratton's response:
Chief Bill Bratton: Nobody in the United States has figured this out, and I'm sorry ACLU, you haven't figured it out either.
Stoltze: Bratton says it's enormously complicated to determine whether officers are engaged in racial profiling. That involves myriad factors, from neighborhood crime and traffic patterns, to looking at the race and motivation of officers.
He says the department's own analysis found "no consistent pattern of race effects." But if Bratton acknowledges the difficulty of determining racial profiling, how does he know his officers are not involved in it?
Bratton: Because we are doing the best job we can in the sense that everybody in life has a bias, and what we attempt to do in this department is identify overt biases so that if we have somebody that we feel is predisposed, in terms of as a racist or what have you, not to let them in.
Stoltze: Police Commission President Anthony Pacheco is less definitive. He says the department's taken important steps toward eliminating any racially biased policing, thanks in large part to federally mandated reforms. But he wants to look more at the latest study on racial profiling.
Anthony Pacheco: I'm in my early stages of its review. I want to reserve the judgment on it.
Stoltze: Glauz Diego says there's no time to reserve judgment. Racial profiling is a reality.
Diego: Actually my brother, who's 18, he actually just started driving, got pulled over for the first time. He was on his way from a football game. He was driving his buddies home. He said that they took everyone out of the car, handcuffed them, asked them a series of questions.
Stoltze: Are you on probation? Are you on parole? Are you a member of a gang? Diego says he faces the same questions every time police stop him.