An elite unit of the Los Angeles Police Department was ordered Wednesday by Mayor Eric Garcetti to reduce the number of vehicle stops it conducts in response to calls from activists and an investigation by the Los Angeles Times that claims officers pulled over a disproportionate number of African Americans.
On Tuesday, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Children's Defense Fund California, Community Coalition and SEIU Local 99 issued a letter addressed to Garcetti, LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the Police Commission, stating the work of the Metropolitan Division has "led to the incarceration and harassment of African American and Latino people, exacerbating racial and wealth disparities in the city of Los Angeles."
In a written statement, Garcetti said he is "deeply concerned" about The Times' report that Metro Division officers stop black drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the population, the newspaper reported.
Garcetti said he favored policing techniques other than traffic stops to help build trust between black residents and the police department, The Times said.
"I have directed the chief of police to prioritize other elements of our comprehensive crime reduction strategy, beyond vehicle stops, until we learn more, so that we can accelerate the reduction in vehicle stops that has been achieved since they peaked a couple of years ago," Garcetti said in the statement.
"We have made our streets safer with fewer vehicle stops than in recent years, and we have to keep prioritizing what works to both stop crime and strengthen trust."
By 2018, the number of drivers stopped by Metro was nearly 14 times greater than before the expansion, but nearly half the drivers stopped by Metro are black, which has helped drive up the share of African Americans stopped by the LAPD overall from 21 percent to 28 percent since the Metro expansion, in a city that is 9 percent black, according to the newspaper's analysis.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department's rank and file officers, said the fact the data cannot prove racial profiling should have been the lead of the story.
"Let's be very clear. Los Angeles police officers target behavior, not skin color," the LAPPL said in a Jan. 28 blog post.
The LAPPL called the article "flawed, skewed, and nonsensical" and went on to say the paper's "'analysis' of the LAPD's Metropolitan Division demonstrates the implicit bias some possess against reporting facts, put in the appropriate context, about Los Angeles police officers and how we do our jobs."
The league said the article cherry-picked data to align with a "preconceived false narrative. That false narrative, promulgated by the Times and its deliberate omission of important contextual data, admittedly zero evidence and any semblance of fair analysis, is designed to paint Metropolitan Division officers as racists who randomly stop black drivers. That reckless charge is offensive, it's not true and is one of the worst kinds of lies anyone can tell."
The effectiveness of the strategy is hard to assess: crime continued to rise for several years before dipping in 2018.
Garcetti said last month that the Office of the Inspector General will be conducting an audit of the unit.
"Angelenos deserve to understand the full picture when something outside the ordinary happens with any of our officers," Garcetti said during a news conference at LAPD headquarters that was mostly dedicated to discussing 2018 crime statistics.
The 270 officers who make up the Metro Division focus on vehicle stops and other "proactive" policing tactics intended to root out violent criminals, often using a minor violation in order to question the driver and potentially search the vehicle, the paper said.
"We look forward to meeting with the leaders who make up the Community Coalition to address their concerns identified over strategies we employ to combat violent crime," LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said in a statement.
The data analyzed by The Times does not show why an individual officer pulled over a driver, and does not contain information about whether a motorist was searched, ticketed or arrested after the stop, nor can the data prove that Metro officers are engaged in racial profiling.