RACE: Chief Bratton responds to skepticism that officers did not engage in the practice.
By Rachel Uranga, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/29/2008 10:44:49 PM PDT
Facing a civilian oversight commission skeptical about the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigation of racial profiling complaints, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said Tuesday he will launch a wide-ranging review of police practices.
Members of the civilian Board of Police Commissioners said during their meeting Tuesday that they were baffled by internal LAPD findings that no officers engaged in racial profiling in 2007, despite hundreds of complaints.
Commissioner John Mack, a longtime civil rights activist and former head of the Urban League, ticked off the complaints, scoffing at investigators who cleared hundreds of officers of wrongdoing.
“Racial profiling, 322 allegations and a big fat zero (sustained). Discrimination, one sustained. Ethnic remarks, 150 and nine (sustained). Gender bias, 18 to 0,” he said.
“This is a great police department, great leadership, but in my opinion there is no perfect institution, and I just find it baffling that we have zeroes in these categories.”
In response, Bratton said he will conduct a national survey of the practices and outcomes of other big-city departments. He also will ask federal monitors who oversee the LAPD’s consent decree – which came about because of the Rampart corruption scandal – and other inspector generals for protocols on how to handle allegations of racial profiling.
“I am not seeing anything here that is much different than I see in the rest
of American policing,” he told the commission.
“This is not a racist department, not a homophobic department, not a brutal department, it’s not a corrupt department,” he said after the meeting. “Does it have some officers that may be some of those things? Possibly. Quite likely, though, we work very hard to find them if we can. However, their numbers are very small, if they do exist.”
Bratton also defended the department’s findings, saying his study will show the results are accurate.
“It is a state-of-mind issue,” he said. “It is something that is being taken seriously by (the commission) and the department, but there may not be any common ground on this issue.”
The remarks come as the department’s own complaint system is under heavy scrutiny by civil rights and immigrant rights groups who say it needs to come under civilian oversight.
In February, the Inspector General’s Office found that in half of the 60 cases it examined, the LAPD failed to properly investigate complaints of serious police misconduct. In some cases, investigators ignored key witnesses and inaccurately reported statements.
“For key complaints – discrimination and racial profiling, excessive force – the number of sustained complaints remain implausibly low for a department of this size,” Peter Bibring, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the commission.
“The picture painted is of a broken complaint system that the public cannot be asked to place trust in.”
The department has not in recent memory confirmed an allegation of racial profiling against an officer. A confirmation can lead to anything from an admonition to termination, said Cmdr. Rick Webb, head of internal affairs.
Under the consent decree imposed more than seven years ago, the LAPD had been forced to monitor stops. Though 2006 findings found more Latino and African-Americans were searched or asked to get out of their cars, the results were inconclusive.
Last September, the department revamped how it determines if an officer targeted someone because of race or ethnicity. Investigators must now ask officers if they knew the race of the person before the stop, what the basis of the stop was and other factors, including lighting that helps determine the context of the encounter and an officer’s state of mind.
“We take it very seriously,” Webb said. “We investigate these seriously.”
This year, the police commission approved in-car video cameras to monitor officers in the South Bureau, and the department expects to expand the program.
On Monday, eight civil rights and immigrant rights groups called on the department to turn over complaint investigations to civilians.
In a letter to the commission, the group, including the ACLU, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and the Korean Resource Center, argued that a civilian process would ensure complaints are fully investigated.
“People only trust their police department if they believe the police department takes problem conduct seriously,” the group wrote in the letter. “This does not appear to be happening.”
Tim Sands, head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s union representing more than 9,000 officers, sharply disagreed and blasted Mack and Commissioner Robert Saltzman, who also expressed skepticism of the LAPD’s complaint process.
“It’s a circular type of logic that two commissioners believe that just because a complaint is made against an officer, that an officer has to be convicted of doing it,” he said. “They are taking the attitude that they are guilty before proven innocent. I am disappointed.”