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LAPD may change the way it deals with racial profiling complaints

The Police Commission is expected to approve changes to the way the department handles racial profiling complaints.
The Police Commission is expected to approve changes to the way the department handles racial profiling complaints.
Andres Aguila/KPCC

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The Los Angeles Police Commission will take up a proposal Tuesday to change the way the department handles accusations of racial profiling. That issue continues to plague police departments around the country.

Go back a decade, and the LAPD had little idea how to handle racial profiling – now called "biased policing" – to encompass other sorts of discrimination complaints.

"Some people said, 'How can you get into an officer's mind?,'" said Commander Richard Webb, head of the Internal Affairs Group at LAPD, which now investigates such complaints. 

Webb says the department had no standard procedure for figuring out whether an officer, say, stopped a car because the driver was a certain race. The temptation was to look at statistics, but the expertise wasn't there, and there was no national consensus on how to even use such statistics.

"So what we started looking at was the constitutional implications of that stop," Webb says. "For example, was the stop legitimate, what were the officer's actions after the stop, did they search people."

This focus on "constitutional policing" has helped L.A. establish one of the most comprehensive review processes in the country for such complaints. The next step, Webb says, is getting command staff to discipline based on the results of those investigations. A few years ago, station captains didn't take such complaints seriously, so LAPD Internal Affairs took over. Since it did, at least one officer faces dismissal for allegedly stopping motorists based on their race.

Now, the L.A. Police Commission must decide whether the department's able to place captains back in charge of biased policing complaints - including disciplining offending officers. That, Webb says, would ensure that the rank and file know that the department is serious about ending racial profiling.

Commissioners previously expressed concerns that the department may regress if internal affairs no longer administers discipline. But a compromise, in which the group still reviews discipline, may have resolved the issue. The police commission is expected to decide the matter at Tuesday's meeting.