RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
What do police searches of blacks and Latinos reveal about racial disparities? The results of an analysis by the Los Angeles Times are troubling. It found that Los Angeles police officers search blacks and Latinos far more than whites during traffic stops. And that is despite the fact that officers are more likely to find illegal items on white residents.
Cindy Chang covers the Los Angeles Police Department for the LA Times. And she co-authored this report and joins us now. Hi, Cindy.
CINDY CHANG: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of how comprehensive the study was? How much data did you review?
CHANG: It's 10 months of data. It's over 300,000 stops. It's every single stop that Los Angeles police officers made during that time period.
MARTIN: Wow. So that's a lot of statistics to work with. Can you get into the specifics? What do the numbers say?
CHANG: So what we found was that 24% of African American drivers and passengers were searched compared with 16% of Latinos and 5% of whites. So that means that a black person who's traveling in a vehicle in the city of Los Angeles was more than four times as likely to be searched by the police as a white person and a Latino was three times as likely.
MARTIN: Yet whites were found to actually have illicit items on them.
CHANG: More often - in 20% of searches compared with 17% for blacks and 16% for Latinos.
MARTIN: And you point out that you look at this and on the face of it, you think it must be racially motivated or that that must be some component. But your reporting in the story - you say these racial disparities and search rates do not necessarily indicate bias. So explain that tension.
CHANG: So you can't get into the mind of an individual officer in an individual traffic stop when you're looking at this aggregate data but...
MARTIN: Right. You can't know intent.
CHANG: Right. But when you see such disparities in the data, it at least - you know, it raises the questions of - what's going on? And it is true that in Los Angeles, particularly in the parts of Los Angeles that have the most violent crime, most of the residents are black and Latino, and most of the people who commit the crimes and who are the victims of the crimes are black and Latino. But the criminologists really point to that contraband finding to question why it is that people of those races would be searched more often.
MARTIN: What has the response been from the LAPD to this?
CHANG: Our story was published online Tuesday morning. And it so happened that the police commission met a few hours after that. And Police Chief Michel Moore came out, and he said that they understand the disparate impact on the community.
And that's one thing that the numbers do show, right? It shows that a lot of black and Latino residents are not only being pulled over but being searched. And they are also being asked to step out of the car, being handcuffed, being detained at the curb far more often than whites.
So there is that impact whether or not there is a good law enforcement reason for it. So the chief was saying that there is a troubled history of race relations in Los Angeles and that they need to address this issue.
Now, when we came out with our study of the racial breakdowns of who is stopped, at the beginning of the year, the mayor had already called for the LAPD to scale back on stopping drivers.
MARTIN: To stop traffic stops on the whole - to reduce the number of all traffic stops.
CHANG: Right. And that has indeed happened. The number of stops is down 11%. And metro stops are down by 45%. So the chief was saying he's going to continue those efforts.
MARTIN: Cindy Chang covers the Los Angeles Police Department for the LA Times. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us.
CHANG: Thanks, Rachel.
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