Fighting Racial Profiling

On the heels of a strong warning from the Justice Department to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to do more to fight the use of racial profiling in its ranks, the Los Angeles Times publishes a very interesting op-ed by Sunil Dutta, a LAPD lieutenant.

Here’s the relevant portion:

True racial profiling, in which people are targeted solely because of race or ethnicity, is both illegal and immoral. It destroys public trust and reduces the effectiveness of the police. There is no place for it in law enforcement. And I firmly believe that most LAPD officers support that viewpoint. Even the reported statement of the officer that he couldn’t do his job without racial profiling was most likely misinterpreted.

Consider the gang officers in Foothill Division, where I work. Each day, they go out in the field looking for Latino males of a certain age who dress in a particular way, have certain tattoos on their bodies and live in an area where street gangs flourish. Does that mean they are engaging in racial profiling? No. They are using crime data to identify possible suspects. Ethnicity is just one of many criteria they consider.

Dutta does a really convincing job of drawing a distinction between racial profiling and the proper use of race in policing.  However, it is really important to put all of this in context.

In 1991, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers brutally beat Rodney King, an African-American suspect, but were acquitted of charges of excessive force.  This case prompted a series of federal investigations that revealed significant misconduct in the LAPD and in other police departments throughout the nation.  With an increasing awareness of police misconduct, Congress included a provision in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that authorizes the Department of Justice to file civil lawsuits against law enforcement agencies that engage in a pattern of violating people’s rights and obtain a court order, called a “consent decree,” to monitor and reform them.

After the Rodney King case brought LAPD misconduct to the public’s attention and the Rampart Scandal in 1997 revealed systemic race-based corruption in the department, the LAPD was forced in 2001 to consent to monitoring by the Department of Justice.

The LAPD tried to end their federal monitoring in 2009, but Michael Cherkasky, an independent investigator hired by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in 2001 to monitor the LAPD, urged the court to put an agreement in place that would end federal monitoring in three years.

In the end, the consent decree that gave the Justice Department authority to monitor the LAPD was lifted, except with respect to racial profiling, which is the lone LAPD issue over which the Justice Department oversees.

Knowing all this, LAPD has a lot of work to do.  And much of that work has to be in rebuilding the public’s trust.  That’s long, hard work.

What do you guys think?