LAPD considering new limits on ‘pretext arrests’

The Los Angeles Police Department is considering limiting ‘pretext stops’ of motorists and pedestrians by officers investigating serious crimes, arguing they are not effective and have undermined public confidence in the police – especially among black and Latino residents who have been disproportionately targeted in the past.

Such stops involve officers citing minor traffic or code violations as a “pretext” to arrest motorists, cyclists or pedestrians they suspect of being involved in more serious crimes. They have been used by the LAPD for decades, particularly in South Los Angeles and other areas with high gun violence, but have come under intense scrutiny since a 2019 analysis of the Times revealed significant racial disparities in their use.

The proposed policy, which was presented to the Civilian Police Commission on Tuesday over objections from the union that represents rank-and-file officers, would prevent such stops from being made “unless officers act on information articulated” regarding a serious crime.

The policy states that such stops “should not be based on mere intuition or general characteristics such as race, gender, age, homelessness status or presence in a high crime location.”

The policy also states that the duration and scope of such stops should not be extended beyond what would be warranted to remedy the violation that served as the pretext for the stop without “articulable reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity,” and requires officers to record the reasons for all such stops on their body-worn cameras.

The policy also formally acknowledges the harm that such shutdowns can cause.

“Stopping and/or detaining a vehicle or pedestrian may promote public safety and protect the public from serious and sometimes violent crime,” the proposed policy states. “Such stops can also subject motorists and pedestrians to inconvenience, confusion and anxiety, and strain relations between law enforcement and the community. This is especially true because community members sometimes perceive stops as biased, racially motivated, or unfair. »

In its 2019 analysis, the Times found that the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division — tasked with cracking down on violent crime — pulled over black drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the city’s population, and that black and Latino drivers were arrested more often, although fewer in number. likely to have contraband on them.

Spurred on by the Times’ findings, the LAPD drastically reduced its use of these stops. The department’s inspector general also audited the use of these stops, finding in 2020 that black and Latino drivers were subjected to significantly more stops than white drivers, despite being less likely to have trouble. smuggling.

It also found that checks were “of limited effectiveness in identifying evidence of illegal firearms or other serious crimes”, with only 2% of traffic stops resulting in an arrest.

On Tuesday, Lizabeth Rhodes, LAPD director of constitutional policing and policy, said the new policy balances public safety needs with the department’s need for community collaboration, trust and accountability, limiting such tactics without prohibiting them. completely.

She said the new policy, if approved by the commission, would mark a significant and important shift in the LAPD’s thinking about violent crimes and the best ways to solve them. Rhodes said implementing the new policy will require new training for officers, which she is working on.

Mark Smith, the department’s inspector general, said the proposed policy would help address many of the serious shortcomings identified in his office’s 2020 audit.

“This policy takes a giant step toward putting in place appropriate limits on the type of stoppages that we considered potentially problematic,” Smith said.

He also said that “how this plays out in practice is of course what’s important,” and his office will monitor the rollout.

Larry Hanna, an attorney for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, took a different stance – calling the commission meeting to urge commissioners not to approve the policy and ordering the department back to the bargaining table with the union of the font.

Rhodes’ office was in communication with the union about the policy as it was being drafted, but Hanna accused the department of acting in bad faith and ignoring the officers’ perspective during the decision. development of the new policy.

“We are very unhappy with the way we were treated,” Hanna said.

Hanna did not elaborate on the union’s specific issues with the policy at the committee meeting and did not respond to a request for comment.

Commission Chairman William Briggs said he disputes Hanna’s characterization of the department’s discussions with the union before submitting the draft proposal to the commission, saying the department acted in good faith.

Briggs said the union objected in part to the wording of the new policy acknowledging that pretext stoppages had negative effects on the community. But before he could elaborate, LAPD Chief Michel Moore asked that discussions between the department and the union on the policy remain private.

The commission did not adopt the new policy, but instead opened it up for public comment for the next two weeks. Comments can be emailed to and will be made public before the commission puts the policy back in place for a vote on March 1, the commissioners said.

The commission also discussed on Tuesday a new online dashboard created by the department to highlight and make public a range of data the department is required to collect under the state’s racial profiling law. and identity.

Moore and other officials said they hope the dashboard and a new data analysis process being created — and expected to launch this year — will further improve the department’s understanding of how judgments are made and on the existence of discrepancies, so that it will be able to make continuous improvements.

The role that police officers play in traffic enforcement in Los Angeles has been questioned for years, with some suggesting that officers should be removed from such enforcement entirely. However, efforts to assess alternatives have failed.

For example, the city’s transportation department has yet to produce a study on alternatives to the armed officers running the traffic stops that the city council ordered it to conduct nearly two years ago.

Los Angeles Times

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