Report Shows Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Wastes Most Of Its Time Hassling Minorities

from the pretty-much-all-we-would-expect-of-the-LASD dept

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has long since abandoned any pretense of serving the public. In fact, it may never have pretended to respect this ideal at any point in its history. It has been a rogue agency for years, openly hostile to oversight, boldly breaking the laws it has sworn to uphold, filling its ranks with deputy gangs, engaging in routine rights violations, prosecuting its critics, and otherwise behaving as though it answers to no one.

Whatever the LASD offers in crime fighting is seemingly undercut by everything it detracts from the community it doesn’t even pretend to serve. A new report from the ACLU and Catalyst California shows the continued funding of the LASD is, at best, counterproductive. All it does is force residents to pay for abusive activities and rights violations. (h/t FourthAmendment.com)

This is what $3.5 billion a year is buying for Los Angeles County residents:

Rather that addressing community concerns about serious crime, sheriff’s departments waste millions of dollars conducting pretextual stops for minor traffic violations that do not improve roadway safety.  For example, data show that amongst all stops, deputies in Los Angeles and Riverside counties spend nearly 9 out of every 10 hours on stops initiated by officers rather than responding to calls for help from community members. And amongst those officer-initiated stops, approximately 80% are for traffic violations.   

As the report [PDF] shows, it’s not just the LASD that’s wasting time and money hoping to luck into roadside busts. The same sort of disdain for public safety is common in all of the largest sheriff’s departments in the state. 90% of work hours are being spent on stops where the reason for the stop isn’t the objective of the stop. Most of these stops turn up nothing illegal, which means crime rates are being lowered, actual criminal acts aren’t being investigated, and actual criminals are spending 90% of their time not having to worry about the heat closing in.

Things that could actually impact public safety (rather than the bullshit stops that disproportionately target minorities) are given the short end of the budgetary stick while law enforcement making a negligible impact on crime rates continue to hoover up billions in funding across the state.

California’s 58 counties and 482 cities annually spend over $25 billion on law enforcement, compared to only $3.7 billion on public health. And, counties specifically spend more general fund revenue on sheriff’s departments than on social services by a substantial margin

And that’s only the front end. Due to the toxic culture present in so many sheriffs agencies, residents are also forced to cover back end expenses caused by deputies and departments that have effectively neutered any form of accountability or oversight.

[I]n 2019, Los Angeles County paid nearly $52 million for settlements and judgments on cases arising from sheriff deputies’ misconduct toward members of the public, and approximately $9.6 million to defend the deputies who caused those harms.

[…]

Riverside County… paid $77 million for police misconduct ($63 million for excessive force and $12 million for false arrests) between 2010 and 2020.

Millions of the billions allotted to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are wasted every year. More money goes to officers hoping to find crime than to officers responding to reported crimes. 89% of the LASD’s patrol hours were spent engaging in stops initiated by officers. That insane ratio breaks down like this in actual money.

Using a one-to-one correlation between budget and patrol time estimates, L.A. Sheriff’s Department officer-initiated stops cost over $981 million, and calls for service cost approximately $124 million.

In essence, this means California residents are forced to spend 80-90% of their law enforcement tax dollars on traffic enforcement — the most common pretext use to engage in speculative fishing expeditions and warrantless searches. And, for all the dollars and time expended on officer-initiated stops, very little criminal activity is detected or punished.

[A]mong officer-initiated stops for traffic violations by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, approximately 3 out of every 4 hours (74.8% or a total of 3,171 hours) are spent on stops that result in a warning or no action.

[…]

For the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, looking at officer-initiated stops for traffic violations, over 1 out of every 3 hours spent was for a stop that resulted in a warning or no action (2,166 total hours).

Across all counties examined by the ACLU and Catalyst California, minorities were disproportionately targeted by traffic stops, with Black people being the most common target across the state. In some counties, Black drivers were targeted at nearly double the rate of white drivers and nearly forty percent more often than the next racial group, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders (NHPI). And even that disparity may be on the low side. As the report notes, the LASD has already been called out by its Inspector General for under-reporting stops of minorities.

So, what’s the solution? Short of disbanding these departments, there’s nothing that’s going to show immediate change. Some gradual change can be forced on these departments by legislation and consent decrees, but evidence continues to show sheriffs (an elected position) are often more powerful than their oversight and tend to treat their counties like fiefdoms, rather than communities they’re supposed to be serving. Increasing data collection on stops will ensure departments can’t pretend they’re serving the public effectively but it likely won’t change their habits. At some point, you have to pick the nuclear option and withstand the immediate hardships to deliver permanent change. Whether anyone’s willing to do that remains to be seen.

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