No racial bias found in L.A. County sheriff’s arrests for obstruction of police

An independent monitor of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has found no significant evidence of racial bias when deputies arrest suspects for alleged “contempt of cop” charges such as resisting arrest or interfering with police business, according to a report released Friday.

Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the county Board of Supervisors, said that when compared to all other arrests, he found little disparity in the racial breakdown of suspects detained only for obstruction-related offenses.

Arrests solely related to obstruction charges are often perceived as potential indicators of racial bias.

The issue took the national spotlight last year after Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct by a Cambridge, Mass., police officer as Gates attempted to enter his own home. Critics alleged racist policing. That incident prompted Bobb to study the Sheriff’s Department’s handling of what some have called “contempt of cop” offenses.


Friday’s report, which was submitted to the Board of Supervisors, analyzed arrest data from 2007.

“Our findings do not demonstrate that there is a greater burden on blacks in general in the county” for obstruction, Bobb said. “Even though the general criminal justice system in Los Angeles falls more heavily on blacks.”

The report, however, did highlight some possible areas for concern:

—Overall, 48% of adults arrested by deputies on obstruction-related charges were never prosecuted, or their charges were dropped.

“The Department must be vigilant for cases where the case was found to have no merit or to lack evidence,” the report states. “Officers should not use an arrest simply as a way to resolve a difficult situation.”

—Deputies used force more often during misdemeanor obstruction arrests on black and Latino suspects than white arrestees.

Force was used against 32% of African American arrestees and 26% of Latino arrestees in misdemeanor obstruction cases compared with 19% of whites.

—In Lancaster, 64% of obstruction-related arrests made by deputies were against blacks, despite the fact that 42% of all arrests involved blacks, Bobb said. The group makes up 17% of the overall population there, according to the report.


“There are places within the county where it is strongly disproportionate and one has to wonder what’s going on there,” Bobb said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the report’s overall findings were a credit to the department’s policing techniques. He called the department “ahead of all law enforcement in terms of these situations.”

Whitmore said the department would be keeping an eye on areas such as Lancaster, described as potentially problematic in the report.

“I wouldn’t interpret them as problems,” he said. “Are we aware of it? Yes.... We certainly take all that into consideration.”