Crime & Justice

LAPD report on biased policing finds problem is more perception than reality

Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division detain a twenty-year old
Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division detain a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The LAPD has produced an extensive report on what it does to prevent biased policing.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Listen to story

00:48
Download this story 0.0MB

The Los Angeles Police Department has made “significant strides” in diversifying its ranks, training officers to avoid bias policing, rigorously investigating complaints and expanding community outreach programs, according to a new report on biased policing from Chief Charlie Beck.

The five-member civilian police commission that oversees the department requested the report in September after a series of controversial shootings over the summer that sparked angry protests.

While the 143-page report said “there is much work to be done to maintain and improve the level of public trust,” it suggests any problem with bias is more a public perception than a reality.

The report details the results of a community survey that found just 48 percent of African Americans view LAPD officers as honest and trustworthy. That compares to 74 percent of white residents, 71 percent of Latinos and 68 percent of Asians.

On the question of use of force by officers, just 30 percent of black residents said officers use it only when necessary, compared to 62 percent of Asians, 59 percent of Latinos and 51 percent respondents.

But residents of various backgrounds expressed concern about whether the LAPD treats people equally. When asked whether officers treat people of all races and ethnicities fairly, only about half of all residents agreed.

Across the city, nearly three-quarters of residents strongly or somewhat approve of the job the LAPD is doing. That means most residents recognize the LAPD for the most part does an extraordinary job, said Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff, the panel's most vociferous supporter of the department.

“At the end of the day, police officers as a whole, the industry as a whole, needs to be thanked and respected,” Soboroff told KPCC. “And it isn’t.”

Yet the overall approval rating sunk among African Americans. Just 57 percent of black residents approve or somewhat approve of the LAPD’s work. Whites were most approving (79 percent), followed by Latinos (74 percent) and Asians (61 percent). There were geographic differences too, with more than three-quarters of San Fernando Valley residents approving of the department's performance and about two-thirds of South Central residents approving.

“There is nothing surprising here,” said Melina Abdullah, a leader of the Los Angeles Chapter of Black Lives Matter. “The problem is that it talks about a feeling of racial oppression and bias rather than actual racial profiling.”

The report says the department has received more than 1,300 complaints of biased policing by officers over the past four years, but none were upheld by department investigators. It says proving such allegations is “very difficult.”

“Although engaging in biased policing is distinctly unconstitutional, if and when it does occur, it is likely to be hidden in the accused officer’s beliefs rather than conspicuous or overt,” the report stated.

Police commissioners and activists alike have raised concerns about this. Commission President Matt Johnson has said he does not think there are zero incidents of biased policing, but believes the department does not have an effective way of making a fair determination of whether an officer has engaged in it.

Activists think the LAPD leadership simply doesn’t want to say the department has a problem.

“They are not acknowledging that what blacks feel is what they are actually experiencing,” Abdullah said.

Without commenting on the specifics of the report, the police commission’s newest member said she looked forward to “meaningful dialogue” when the panel holds a special public hearing on the report Tuesday.

“We need to listen and learn so we can understand how these issues play out in people’s lives, and to hear from police officers as well” to determine the best way forward, said Commissioner Shane Murphy Goldsmith, who is president and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation.

The report discusses implicit biases, and says those are even harder to identify. The LAPD is including training on that issue as well now, the report states.

The report touted the Community Safety Partnership program in public housing projects in Watts and other areas of the city, the creation last year of a Community Relationship Division and participation in Days of Dialogue with residents as example of programs designed improve trust. It also highlights a mediation program that brings residents face to face with the officers they've accused of bias or other misconduct.

In addition, the report says cameras worn by officers will be “powerful tools” to maintain officer accountability. More than 1,300 cameras have been issued in six divisions. Chief Beck has said he hopes to have 7,000 offices involved in patrol-related duties in all 21 divisions outfitted by 2018.

Researchers who conducted the community survey made several recommendations to build trust with the community, which the department has adopted, according to the report.

1-Maintaining and increasing the overall approval rating of the department and continue to act professionally.

2-Continue to improve relationships with residents in South Bureau and with African Americans; overcome the perception that the department does not treat people of all races and ethnicities fairly.

3-Proactively educate the public about the use of force, especially when it is appropriate and when it is not.

4-Reduce fear of crime among women and African Americans.

5-Increase police responsiveness to community concerns and interact more with residents.