Shameless: Justice Department Warns LAPD over Racial Profiling

The story popped up on the Los Angeles Times website Saturday night. The headline: “Justice Department warns LAPD to take a stronger stance against racial profiling.”

One might assume on reading such a headline that the Justice Department had uncovered some damning evidence that Los Angeles Police Department officers, even after working for years under the terms of a consent decree and the watchful eyes of a federal monitor, were engaging in discriminatory practices. In the print edition, the story was given any newspaper’s most prominent placement: above the fold on the front page of the Sunday edition. This, the Times was saying, is a Very Important Story, so important in fact that they followed up with a typically sophomoric editorial in Tuesday’s edition, ominously titled “Shades of the ‘old’ LAPD.”

But if you had read Sunday’s story in search of the damning evidence you thought had been uncovered, you might have reached the end of it and said to yourself, “Wait a minute, that’s ... it?”

The evidence cited by the Justice Department and the Times fell somewhere well short of damning, to wit, a single conversation -- recorded inadvertently and perhaps illegally -- between an LAPD supervisor and two officers, in which the officers were dismissive of allegations of racial profiling. Times writer Joel Rubin described it thus:

“So, what?” one [officer] said, when told that other officers had been accused of stopping a motorist because of his race. The second officer is heard twice saying that he “couldn’t do [his] job without racially profiling.”

The officers’ comments, Justice officials found, spoke to a “perception and attitude of some LAPD officers on the street” and suggested “a culture that is inimical to race-neutral policing.”

There are indeed perceptions and attitudes among LAPD officers that both the Justice Department and the Los Angeles Times would find distasteful, but they are not the ones being fretted over in the Times’s story. Unlike our sophisticated betters in the lawyering and newspaper businesses, police officers cannot afford to entertain the fevered utopian fantasies of those who choose to pretend, against all evidence, that crime and criminals are equally distributed among all races and ethnicities. Like police officers everywhere, LAPD officers must perceive the world as it exists, with all its many imperfections, and their attitudes are shaped accordingly. And in Los Angeles, as in any other city you might name, the reality is that blacks and Latinos are responsible for a far greater share of the city’s crime than every other ethnic group combined.

Consider: The city of Los Angeles is divided into 21 patrol divisions, each with it’s own police station and complement of officers.  In examining the latest crime data from the department’s number crunchers, we can see that South Central L.A.’s 77th Street Division, populated almost entirely by blacks and Latinos, leads the city in violent crime with 2,322 incidents this year as of Nov. 6.  Trailing 77th Street are the other areas that comprise South Central L.A., Southeast, Newton, and Southwest Divisions, each with more than 1,500 violent incidents.  Together those four divisions account for more than 40 percent of the city’s violent crime despite being home to  only 16 percent of its population.

Last in the city in violent crime is the mostly white West L.A. Division with 246 incidents, this despite having 57,000 more residents than 77th Street. What’s more, officers working in West L.A. know that much of the violent crime occurring in their area is committed by blacks and Latinos who drive in from South Central and other parts of the city to prey on the relatively prosperous inhabitants.

Would the Justice Department and the Los Angeles Times have the LAPD ignore so glaring a disparity? And who but the city’s criminals would profit if it did?