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Community groups want Metro pulled from South L.A.

LOS ANGELES — A dozen community organizations Feb. 5 called for the removal of an elite Los Angeles Police Department division from South Los Angeles in response to a report that the unit oversaw a surge in traffic stops involving African-American drivers.

In a letter addressed to the mayor, LAPD chief and the Police Commission, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Children’s Defense Fund California, Community Coalition and SEIU Local 99, said the work of the Metropolitan Division has “led to the incarceration and harassment of African American and Latino people, exacerbating racial and wealth disparities in the city of Los Angeles.”

“Nearly half of the drivers stopped by the Metro Division are African American. In a city that is only 9 percent black, it is nearly impossible to say racial profiling is not a factor in this,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of Community Coalition. “Now is the time to invest in our community, and move away from suppressive racial profiling strategies that create distrust, harm the community, and dismiss real data.”

To combat a surge in violent crime, the LAPD doubled the size of its elite Metropolitan Division in 2015, creating special units to swarm crime hot spots, the Los Angeles Times reported recently.

By 2018, the number of drivers stopped by Metro was nearly 14 times greater than before the expansion, but nearly half the drivers stopped by Metro are black, which has helped drive up the share of African Americans stopped by the LAPD overall from 21 percent to 28 percent since the Metro expansion, in a city that is 9 percent black, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

“Recent data suggests a major step backward towards building trust between LAPD and our local community,” said April Verrett, president of a local unit of Service Employees international Union. “Systemic racism still exists at all levels of law enforcement and beyond. There is a great opportunity for LAPD to demonstrate real leadership in the South L.A. community.”

The effectiveness of the strategy is hard to assess: crime continued to rise for several years before dipping in 2018.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said last month that the Office of the Inspector General will be conducting an audit of the unit.

“Angelenos deserve to understand the full picture when something outside the ordinary happens with any of our officers,” Garcetti said during a news conference at LAPD headquarters that was mostly dedicated to discussing 2018 crime statistics.

Garcetti said “we will get information instead of having speculation” via the audit. The inspector general’s report will detail “the story and not just the statistics” about the division’s policies, he said.

The data analyzed by The Times does not show why an individual officer pulled over a driver, and does not contain information about whether a motorist was searched, ticketed or arrested after the stop, nor can the data prove that Metro officers are engaged in racial profiling.

“At a time when advocates are coalesced around decriminalization and shifting to investment in our young people and communities, we will not allow this over-policing to go unchecked,” said Shimica Gaskins of Children’s Defense Fund California.

Some civil rights advocates say the racial disparities revealed by the newspaper’s analysis are too extreme to be explained by other factors, and troubling for a department that has spent the last quarter-century trying to repair its fractured relationship with the city’s black residents.

Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney who has worked closely with the LAPD on reforms in recent years, told the newspaper that the racial breakdown of Metro stops is “really off the chain.”

“This is stop-and-frisk in a car,” she said, referring to the New York Police Department’s controversial practice of patting down black and Latino pedestrians, which was sharply curtailed after a legal settlement.

Garcetti said he had asked the Office of Inspector General to conduct the audit in response to the report by The Times, but LAPD Chief Michel Moore added that the audit had been planned before the mayor asked for the probe.

Staff and Wire Reports