Racial Profiling: The Myth that Never Dies
The ACLU says the debate is over. Is it really?


David Klinger is an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, and the author of Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force. He is himself a former police officer, having served with the LAPD and the Redmond, Wash. police department. But he is no shill for cops: he has testified as an expert witness both for and against police officers in civil cases arising from use-of-force incidents.

Klinger expressed a number of reservations on the Ayres report, beginning with its reliance on population figures in calculating what it labels as excessive stops, searches, and arrests of blacks and Hispanics in Los Angeles. In an e-mail to me, Klinger wrote that Ayres’s use of the racial and/or ethnic composition of a given area as expressed in census data is not sound. The key question is not who lives in a given area, says Klinger, but rather who is actually present in the area and interacting with the police.

For example, the Ayres report identifies two LAPD patrol divisions (out of eighteen) where the “stop rate” for blacks actually exceeded the number of blacks living in those areas. These disparities are easily explained, yet the report makes only a passing effort at doing so. “Residents can be stopped more than once,” write Ayres and Borowsky, “and non-residents who travel into a division can also be stopped.”

This last point bears further explication which Ayres and Borowsky do not provide. For example, they fail to account for the large number of homeless men living in downtown Los Angeles, where, according to their report, the number of blacks stopped exceeded the number of blacks living in the area. In recent years a large amount of unused office and industrial space in downtown L.A. has been converted into condominiums and lofts, the residents of which are for the most part white and fairly affluent. But the LAPD’s Central Division is also home to the city’s Skid Row, whose “residents” sleep outdoors or in homeless shelters and often go uncounted in census tabulations. These homeless men are overwhelmingly black, and their numbers include a large contingent of paroled felons and others with long criminal records. Consider: if you were a police officer in downtown Los Angeles, and you were interested in curtailing crime on your beat, on which group would you focus your efforts, the white, yuppie condo dwellers or the black ex-cons?

The situation is similar in Hollywood Division, where the black population is no more than six or seven percent. Unexamined in the Ayres report is the fact that Hollywood is home to many nightclubs that regularly attract large numbers of black gang members from South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. These gang members are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the crimes committed in Hollywood, most especially violent crimes, and thus are far more likely to attract the attention of the police.

The biggest problem with the Ayres report, says Klinger, is that it presents no ethnic- or race-based crime information, i.e. the amount of crime actually committed by blacks and Hispanics. “Ayres admits this is a liability,” said Klinger in his e-mail to me, “but downplays it and uses ‘indirect benchmarks’ (last paragraph of page 27) to try to overcome this problem. I find this practice quite wanting.” Klinger went on to say that Ayres and Borowsky were “speaking beyond the data” in that they did not include in their analysis a critical variable that even they admit must be taken into account in order to draw valid conclusions.

Though LAPD Chief William Bratton was critical of the Ayres report, he has as yet failed to disclose the information Klinger found lacking, information that is readily available and would surely refute the report’s bottom line, to wit, that blacks in Los Angeles, and to a lesser extent Hispanics, commit crimes at a far greater rate than do whites, and are therefore subjected to a greater level of attention from police officers on patrol. If one accepts the murder rate as a benchmark for measuring violent crime, the racial disparities are indeed striking. In 2007, the LAPD investigated 394 murders. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Los Angeles is 9.6 percent black, yet of those 394 murder victims, 134, or 34 percent, were black. And of the 354 identified murder suspects, 129 (36 percent) were black. The number of Hispanic murder victims and suspects roughly mirror the overall Hispanic population in Los Angeles. Hispanics make up 49 percent of the city’s population, and last year 54 percent of its murder victims and 55 percent of its murder suspects were also Hispanic. (Whites are about 29 percent of L.A.’s population, but in 2007 they made up just 8 percent of its murder victims and 7 percent of its known murder suspects. The nationwide murder figures reflect a similar racial disparity, as revealed here.)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was once president of the L.A. chapter of the ACLU, and the rest of the city government is composed almost entirely of like-minded liberals. They are far too committed to politically correct ideals to disclose the cold and persistent facts that LAPD cops, indeed cops all over the country, know all too well: that the murder statistics cited above are also reflected in every other category of violent crime. Far from being over, the debate over racial profiling will continue for as long as these racial disparities in crime rates do.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.