It seems like such a simple proposition: if a police officer stops you, he has to have a reason. He doesn’t have to have to be right. He doesn’t even need a particularly good reason. He just needs a legitimate reason.

And the reason can’t be based on the color of a person’s skin.

Why is this simple rule so hard for our law enforcement officers to understand? Why do they resist it? Why do they get defensive when civilians ask them to state their legitimate reasons (if any) for pulling somebody over? Why do police act like the motivations of the police are beyond questioning? Why can’t they answer a direct question about their reasons for pulling people over?

The reason can’t be based on the color of a person’s skin.

Why is it so hard for some police officers and administrators to accept that? Why does the Department of Justice need to send threatening letters to the LAPD, reminding them that they have to actually investigate claims of racial profiling and harassment?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times obtained a letter from the Department of Justice to the LAPD. In the letter, the DOJ warns that the LAPD needs to do a better job of investigating officers accused of racial profiling. The DOJ also dug up this lovely conversation between a few officers that was caught on tape after an investigator failed to turn off the tape recorder:

“So, what?” one 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.”

The reason CANNOT be based on the color of a person’s skin.

In response, did the LAPD say “wow, those two idiot officers are evidence that we still have a long way to go”? Did they say “good point, we’re doing well, but we could do better”? Ha, no, of course not. Instead, the chief of police went with the “move along now, nothing to see here” approach of trying to get people to leave him alone:

Police Chief Charlie Beck disputed the Justice Department findings, saying they were based on cases that predated strict investigative guidelines put into place last year. He also rejected the suggestion that the candid comments of the two officers caught on the recording reflected a pervasive problem.

“It is a huge leap to paint the entire department with that brush,” Beck said. “And it is just not true. It’s not that type of department. We have a tough history that we must overcome and that takes time, but … the vast, vast majority of Los Angeles police officers today police in the right ways for the right reasons.”

Notice how Chief Beck jumps from LAPD’s “tough history” (which is really only “tough” for the minorities who had to deal with the LAPD) to the “vast majority of [LAPD officers] today,” while completely skipping over the two modern cops the DOJ caught on tape describing the type of department they think they work in? The Chief can talk all he wants about what’s not true, but what is true is that two of his officers (umm… at least) think that racial profiling is crucial to their job.

And that is, of course, idiotic. Stopping racial minorities isn’t part of police work. Stopping crime is crucial to police work. And a great way to stop crime to have some kind of evidence of criminal activity.

And the color of a person’s skin is not evidence of anything.

The mentality that officers “can’t do [their] jobs” without racial profiling is what the Justice Department is trying to get at. It’s that mentality that leads to this shocking statistic:

Police commissioners have grown frustrated with the department’s work on racial profiling. At a meeting earlier this month, the commission’s president, John Mack, and Commissioner Rob Saltzman questioned whether police officials were doing enough. They noted that no officer has been found guilty of racial profiling by an LAPD investigation for years, despite numerous complaints each year.

They haven’t been able to find one police officer in all of Los Angeles who is guilty of racial profiling? Are you kidding me?

If there is no acknowledgment that some LAPD officers racially profile, and there is no punishment for the officers who racially profile, then how is the culture of LAPD ever really supposed to change?

And really this should be a fairly simple change. Nobody is asking officers to put themselves at risk or ignore crime or not follow the evidence or anything like that. All the DOJ is saying, and all the Constitution requires, is that the LAPD have a legitimate reason for stopping somebody.

And the reason can’t be based on the color of a person’s skin.

Justice Department warns LAPD to take a stronger stance against racial profiling [Los Angeles Times]
DOJ: Racial Profiling by LAPD Still a Problem [WSJ Law Blog]


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