The nation’s largest sheriff’s department has systematically targeted blacks and Hispanics for stops, seizures, and excessive force in two cities north of Los Angeles, a new Department of Justice investigation finds.
In results from a two-year investigation, the agency’s civil rights division found that police practices ranging from overt racist comments to illegal searches and arrests plagued the region known as Antelope Valley, as its population changed from primarily white to two-thirds black and Hispanic. Residents vocally associated an increase in recipients of federal housing vouchers with race, writing on a Facebook page entitled “I Hate Section 8,” that the neighborhood was being “ghettoized,” and lamented “the creeping darkness.” Among the illegal police practices by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were aggressive police investigations and searches into primarily minorities’ eligibility for the vouchers, with police even sending photos from voucher recipients’ premises to the organizers of the ani-Section 8 movement.
Other evidence of racial bias included statements by officers that all new African American residents of the region were gang members, routine suspicionless detention in police cars of domestic violence victims and minor traffic offenders, and excessive force incidents overwhelmingly against minorities. A statistical analysis found that officers were far more likely to stop and/or search blacks and Hispanics, even controlling for the crime rate by race, and even though the likelihood of finding contraband on minorities was 50 percent lower:
Our analysis of stop and search activity in the Antelope Valley revealed biased law enforcement activity, as African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latinos, are more likely to be stopped or searched than whites in the Antelope Valley. Despite the belief that more aggressive law enforcement practices are warranted due to recent fluctuations in crime rates in the area, there is no apparent public safety explanation to justify this pattern of racially disparate stops and searches. The higher rate of searching African-American pedestrians, for example, has not correlated to a higher discovery rate of contraband. In fact, in Lancaster, the contraband seizure rate is about 50% lower for African Americans than for whites. Additionally, even using regression analysis to control for a variety of factors, we found that for offenses where law enforcement discretion is especially high, African-American pedestrians in Lancaster are 25% more likely to be stopped than whites.
These findings come as a federal judge deliberates in the months-long trial over alleged unlawful and discriminatory “stop-and-frisks” by the New York Police Department. Lawyers for the city argued police overwhelmingly stop blacks and Latinos because they were more likely to commit crimes. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) even went so far this week as to say that the NYPD “stops minorities too much and whites too little.” But in addition to the 90 percent failure rate of these police stops, findings by New York’s Public Advocate similar to those in Antelope Valley found that stops of white people were twice as likely to yield a weapon, and a third as likely to yield some sort of contraband.
The investigation in Los Angeles also found that the sheriff’s office failed entirely to respond to complaints of misconduct. Of the 180 complaints made during a one-year period in Antelope Valley, only one was formally investigated, resulting in criminal charges against the involved deputy. The DOJ released these findings alongside an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department to institute reforms, which include revision of stop and search policies and bolstered misconduct investigations.