Officer Engaged in Racial Profiling, LAPD Probe Finds
A white police officer targeted Latino drivers for traffic stops because of their race, a Los Angeles Police Department investigation concluded — marking the first time the agency has found one of its officers guilty of racial profiling.
For decades, the question of racial profiling — “biased policing,” in LAPD jargon — has bedeviled the LAPD. Accusations that the practice was commonplace in minority neighborhoods throughout the 1970s and ’80s helped earn the LAPD a reputation for bias and abuse of power.
And, despite dramatic reforms that have boosted the department’s image over the last 10 years, the persistence of profiling claims has prevented the agency from shaking its dark past altogether. With hundreds of officers accused of profiling each year, department officials have cleared all of them of wrongdoing, telling exasperated critics that it was all but impossible to determine whether a cop was motivated by racial bias.
The investigation into Patrick Smith, a 15-year veteran who worked alone on a motorcycle assignment in the department’s West Traffic Division, found he was stopping Latinos based on their race and deliberately misidentifying some Latinos as white on his reports — presumably in an effort to conceal the fact that the people he pulled over were overwhelmingly Latino, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the case who requested that their names not be used because police personnel issues are confidential.
At a meeting last month, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reviewed the evidence against Smith and heard from members of his command staff who recommended that the officer be found guilty. Beck signed off on the investigation’s findings and ordered Smith sent to a disciplinary hearing, where the department will attempt to have him fired, the sources said. In Los Angeles, the police chief cannot fire an officer unilaterally but instead must let a three-person board hear the case and decide if firing is warranted. Smith had been relieved of duty during the investigation, sources said.