Investigations have been launched in the wake of the discovery that all of the allegations of racial profiling brought against Los Angeles Police Department officers since 2001 have been dismissed.
A 2008 study conducted by a professor at Yale found that, among the suspects who are stopped by LAPD, blacks are 127 percent more likely and Latinos are 43 percent more likely to be frisked than Caucasians.
These figures are statistical proof of the bias that riddles the LAPD’s policing methods. Of the 20 investigations currently being conducted within the department, about a third have been found to be biased based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
Bias is an unfortunate part of human nature, which raises the question: When law enforcement officers are concerned, should they be held to a higher standard? The fact that police officers don a uniform and a badge doesn’t rule them out as humans with natural biases, but the authority accorded to the LAPD gives them an added responsibility of strictly policing themselves to ensure objectivity.
Newly retired LAPD Chief William Bratton is credited with reducing the crime rate in Los Angeles by 30 percent and working to train police officers who understand the relationships and biases faced by the constituents. One of his initiatives, however, titled “Bias-free policing,” has yet to be realized, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
With his departure, Chief-Designate Charlie Beck understands the complex intricacy of the position.
“[Biased policing is] something I’m going to closely monitor. I’m going to work with the police commission on it,” he said in an interview with KABC. “It’s important to me that we determine exactly to what extent officers’ actions are based on racial bias.”
Though he agrees that bias, as a human trait, cannot be eradicated, it can certainly be mitigated by the LAPD. Though this sounds noble and potentially beneficial, some, like commenters on KABC’s website, vehemently disagree with Beck’s mission. Some are even in favor of the biased policing, with one reader calling it “good police work.”
It’s difficult to discern whether those comments are the product of ingrained prejudices or learned experiences. Whether the police officers were acting on biases or rational thinking, it may be impossible to know.
Citizens are subject to the police institution and the law that governs it. Maintaining faith in the system is essential for the system to work. It is the job of the newly designated chief to work hard to enforce an anti-bias policy. Only then can the LAPD reverse the biased reputation it has had for the past decades.
Beck’s ideas of installing surveillance cameras in police cars to actively monitor police officers’ decision-making methods is one step in the right direction, though it is not a foolproof method. It certainly is a sensitive topic to consider, and Beck’s task of reducing the bias that colors police work — while maintaining the level of discretion that enables effective policing — will be a colossal undertaking.
We can only hope that the new police chief lives up to these promises to bring a better reputation to the police department.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration (international relations).