The Los Angeles Police Department announced this week it would stop pulling over random vehicles after an investigation by the LA Times revealed officers were pulling over black and Latino drivers at disproportionately high rates.
My concern here is not racial profiling, but the policy itself, which asks officers to stop vehicles without the “probable cause” element required by law for a search.
Not only is the vehicle stop policy a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment, but it hasn’t been successful.
According to the Times investigation, the stop vehicle policy results in arrest about 1% of the time (but causes discomfort for drivers 100% of the time). Furthermore, the policy required LAPD’s Metro Division to more than double its ranks and created a more than 1,000% increase in the number of cars stopped per year.
“Even though we’re recovering hundreds more guns, and those firearms represent real weapons and dangers to a community, what are we doing to the tens of thousands of people that live in those communities and their perception of law enforcement?” asks Police Chief Michel Moore.
Starting in November, LAPD’s Metro Division will limit random searches and focus on tracking down suspects (which is what they should have been doing in the first place).
City leaders have also asked the LAPD to end pretextual stops – when an individual is stopped for a minor violation and then investigated for more serious wrongdoing.
This strategy is also illegal per a 2015 Supreme Court ruling which states that any police stop “exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.”
Not surprisingly, the union that represents LA police officers opposed the LAPD’s decision.
“The Chief’s decision to buckle to the demands of anti-police groups like the ACLU, who have zero interest in ensuring criminals are arrested, is deeply disappointing,” said the group. “We do not support this reckless gamble that will lead to the further victimization of people of color by criminals and gang members.”
At the end of the day, it is not a question of whether the vehicle stop policy was effective or racially biased, but a question of whether the policy is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
This is similar to what happened in New York City in 2013, when a judge deemed the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program to be racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. Cops had been directed to stop, question, and search civilians based on ‘reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.’ In many cases, that suspicion was based on race.
At the height of the program, the NYPD was conducting more than 680,000 stop-and-frisks per year.
Like LA’s vehicle stop program, the stop-and-frisk strategy resulted in few arrests and created lasting tensions between civilians and police. And it was illegal from the beginning.
I support the police 100% when it comes to doing their job. However, we should not give police tools and methods that violate our rights under the Constitution.
City leaders frequently want to take shortcuts in the name of cost and effectiveness, and sometimes their methods work. But in my eyes and the eyes of most people who care about the country, anything that violates our Constitutional rights is horrific and unconscionable.
Especially the Fourth Amendment, which covers ‘search and seizure’, which in the case of Los Angeles meant that any cop could pull you over and detain you just on a whim. That’s an awful lot of power in the hands of the police and an awful lot of tyranny to the common citizen, even if the citizen is a poor person in Los Angeles.
This may make it more difficult and more expensive for the police to do their job. But as Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”