Los Angeles police officers search blacks and Latinos far more often than whites during traffic stops, even though whites are more likely to be found with illegal items, a Los Angeles Times analysis found. The analysis, the first in a decade to calculate racial breakdowns of searches by LAPD officers after they pull over vehicles, comes amid growing nationwide scrutiny over racial disparities in policing. The Times obtained the data under a new California law targeting racial profiling that requires the LAPD and other agencies to record detailed information about every traffic stop. The analysis found that, 24 percent of black drivers and passengers were searched, compared with 16 percent of Latinos and 5 percent of whites during a recent 10-month span. That means a black person in a vehicle was more than four times as likely to be searched by police as a white person, and a Latino was three times as likely.
Yet whites were found with drugs, weapons or other contraband in 20 percent of searches, compared with 17 percent for blacks and 16 percent for Latinos. The totals include both searches of the vehicles and pat-down searches of occupants. Racial disparities in search rates do not necessarily indicate bias. They could reflect differences in driving behavior, neighborhood crime rates and other factors. The lower contraband hit rates for blacks and Latinos raise serious questions about the law enforcement justification for searching them more often than whites, criminologists said. Civil rights attorney Connie Rice, a longtime LAPD critic, said, “Even if you have reasonable suspicion or probable cause, if you’re not producing arrests that go directly to the highest levels of public safety, all you’re doing is dragnetting, with a very high cost in trust.”