Data Shows LA Sheriff's Department Is Stopping Tons Of Latino Bicyclists, Rarely Finding Anything Illegal

from the nothing-lousier-than-a-biased-dragnet dept

Law enforcement doesn't just engage in pretextual stops of cars. Bicyclists are on the radar as well, especially if they happen to be minorities. That's according to data obtained by the Los Angeles Times, which shows the LA Sheriff's Department (which has buried the needle on the far end of "problematic" for years) is targeting bike riders with tactics that fall somewhere between pretextual stop and stop-and-frisk.

A Los Angeles Times investigation found deputies search 85% of bike riders they stop even though they often have no reason to suspect they’ll find something illegal. Most bicyclists were held in the backseat of patrol cars while deputies rummaged through their belongings or checked for arrest warrants.

The Times' analysis of more than 44,000 bike stops logged by the Sheriff’s Department since 2017 found that 7 of every 10 stops involve Latino cyclists, and bike riders in poorer communities with large nonwhite populations are stopped and searched far more often than those in more affluent, whiter parts of the county.

Because they're not in vehicles, but rather on them, the stops are more analogous to Terry stops, which are supposed to be supported by reasonable suspicion. Bikes make that rights-skirting math even easier by introducing a set of obscure, rarely enforced traffic laws to use as pretexts for stops that often tend to end with a search of the rider and any belongings they have with them.

Some cyclists interviewed by the Times said they had been stopped on multiple occasions. Most found the stops -- for harmless infractions like missing reflectors or riding on a sidewalk (bike lanes are still pretty much a luxury in most of the county) -- made them feel angry or humiliated. Many respondents also recognized the stops for what they were, no matter what was said by deputies performing stops: fishing expeditions targeting minority bike riders.

Deputies seem to operate with the assumption that someone riding a bike by choice is a criminal.

Many bicyclists said they were asked if they were on probation or parole and if they had drugs or weapons. The Sheriff's Department data mirror their experiences. Deputies asked 93% of riders about their probation or parole status.

This low-level oppression has resulted in a sort of defeatism taking hold in those harassed by officers.

Some cyclists shrugged off the encounters as an inconvenience that comes with living in high-crime neighborhoods.

This is something cops argue in court, often successfully. But nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it say these rights don't need to be respected in areas that criminals frequent.

The Sheriff's Department has defended the biased bike stop program as essential to fighting crime, claiming (unbelievably) that people using bikes for transportation are generally criminals.

Lt. Lorena Rodriguez, a department spokeswoman, said riding a bike allows criminals “to traverse a neighborhood unnoticed, faster and safer than on foot, and additionally makes it easier to avoid police contact. We are not conducting traffic stops of persons obviously engaged in the use of a bicycle for exercise or amusement.”

But if cyclists are generally criminals, the Sheriff's Department sucks at sniffing out criminal activity. Deputies perform a lot of stops. But they don't do much actual crimefighting.

For all the stops and searches, deputies rarely catch criminals. During searches, they find illegal items just 8% of the time, The Times’ analysis shows. Weapons were seized just 164 times — less than half a percent of all searches.

The Department's justification for stopping and searching so many bicyclists doesn't hold up. There's nothing about the end result that suggests targeting cyclists for minor violations is taking dangerous criminals off the street. All it's doing is allowing deputies to engage in fishing expeditions that overwhelmingly target a single demographic. It's far easier than stopping cars, and the county's bike laws help ensure there's always a reason to stop someone, even if issuing fix-it tickets is generally understood by deputies to be largely beside the point. It's an easy bake recipe for rights violations that will rarely be challenged in court, either by criminal defendants or plaintiffs in civil suits.

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Filed Under: bike stops, lasd, police, pretextual stops

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2021 @ 2:49pm

    Re: "Harmless Infractions"

    Cool story bro

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