Racial profiling in the LAPD

The usual reactions to things that happen for the first time are surprise and skepticism. The internal investigation of racial profiling by a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer is not an exception.

The fact that the LAPD investigated, found an irregularity, and is initiating the removal from its ranks of Patrick Smith, a motorcycle officer, for using racial profiling on drivers who looked Latino, is in itself worth mentioning.

The case sends the Hispanic community an important message that the LAPD won’t tolerate this discriminatory attitude. At the same time, it warns LAPD members that this type of behavior is unacceptable. Looking Latino is not a crime or an indication of criminal behavior.

That being said, it’s impossible not to wonder how many officers whose behavior is similar to Smith’s have slipped under the radar and are patrolling our streets. The LAPD’s history is also controversial when it comes to this. But we don’t need to go far back to remember that the racial profiling issue is a real one. In 2010, a recorded conversation in which an LAPD officer said he “couldn’t do [his] job without racially profiling” was made public.

On the other hand, Smith’s case also shows how difficult it is for the LAPD to prove that an officer is deliberately using racial profiling to do his or her job. Hundreds of complaints of this kind are filed against LAPD officers every year. While it’s true that many are unfounded, it’s hard to believe that all of them are worthless.

Combating the injustice of racial profiling must be a daily battle in an organization with the size, characteristics and mission of the LAPD in a city as diverse as Los Angeles.

Smith’s case is a landmark in the LAPD’s history. We hope it is not an exception, because the use of racial profiling in police work is not a problem that involves only one police officer.