This is what institutionalized police accountability mechanisms look like: The Department of Justice has sent a warning letter to the Los Angeles Police Department that they better not be getting sloppy with ok’ing racial profiling on the force.

Joel Rubin reports for the Los Angeles Times:

“So, what?” one [officer] 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.”

According to the DOJ, they caught one cop on tape saying: “I couldn’t do my job without racially profiling.” And so the DOJ told the LAPD that they had “continuing concerns” with the culture of the force, especially when it came to the quality of LAPD’s internal investigations of racial profiling. LAPD receives about 250 complaints of so-called “biased policing” every year, and the DOJ said the LAPD was not taking those complaints seriously enough. Rubin writes that beyond these complaints, “more damaging is the widely held belief, especially among black and Latino men, that the practice is commonplace.”

The LAPD just came out of a consent decree with the federal government, which issued a list of reforms the department needed to make, and assigned an inspector general and a judge to audit the force to make sure changes were being made. Rubin reports that the judge who lifted the decree found the LAPD’s changes on everything but racial profiling to be generally acceptable, and said he wanted the federal government to keep an eye on the LAPD’s ongoing reform work.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck defended his department: “It is a huge leap to paint the entire department with that brush,” Beck told the LA Times. “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.”

Except that hundreds of people report being targeted simply because of the color of their skin when they’re stopped and harassed on the street or pulled over while driving—and that’s only those who bother to contact the department to lodge a formal complaint. The true number is likely much higher.

Federal oversight of local police departments can only last so long. The DOJ can’t babysit local police departments indefinitely. Police accountability experts insist that a department is only as clean as its top brass are; long after the feds leave, it’s people like Beck and his command staff who must ensure that the LAPD takes complaints of racial profiling seriously.

Read this online at http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/11/justice_department_warns_lapd_it_better_take_racial_profiling_seriously.html


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