Data shows elite Los Angeles police unit disproportionately targets Black drivers

In 2015 the Los Angeles Police Department doubled the size of its elite Metropolitan Division with the best of intentions, but new data shows the Black community has had to bear the brunt of their focus.

According to the LA Times, in an effort to offset an alarming surge in violent offenses, special units were created to swarm crime hot spots. The Metro officers usually parole the streets in inconspicuous, unmarked, SUVs and when they spot possible offenders they pull them over to search cars for guns or drugs.

But within three years of the expansion, the number of drivers stopped by Metro was nearly 14 times greater than before. While there has been a dip in crime, it also can’t be ignored that the lions-share of those being targeted are people of color.

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An LA Times analysis has found that Metro officers stop African American drivers more than five times their share of the city’s population. Almost half the drivers which were stopped are Black, which increases the overall from 21% to 28% percentage of African Americans stopped by the LAPD since the Metro expansion in a city that is only 9%, Black.

Most of the vehicle stops are taking place in South Los Angeles, which has a significant African America population. A third of South L.A is made up of Black people but even there the percentage of Black drivers stopped by Metro is twice their share of the population.

“This is stop-and-frisk in a car,” said Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney who has worked closely with the LAPD on reforms in recent years, but believes the clear racial bias shown by the Metro data is “really off the chain.”

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Stop-and-frisk is the now infamous New York Police Department practice of patting down Black and Latino pedestrians, which was severely curtailed after a legal settlement. Rice believes LAPD is now becoming dangerously close to re-enacting that same practice for drivers.

“Do you want the trust of the poorest communities, that are the root of the [1992] riots, or do you continue … massive stop-policing that creates mistrust?” she added.

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Chief Michel Moore who took over the department in June, said his Metro staff “is very aware of the potential of people viewing them as over-policing or being overly harsh.”

But he argues that their intensity is a necessary evil if they stand a chance in keeping residents safe in high-crime areas.

“A person who’s living in these … communities is experiencing a disproportionate level of violence than other Angelenos and is suffering from that,” he said. “And the symptom, that means there are more police officers there. It’s been my experience that that’s where the community wants us. The people who are experiencing the violence are asking for us to be there to help them.”