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Once again, LAPD upholds zero biased policing complaints against its officers

Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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The Los Angeles Police Department in 2021 continued its yearslong streak of upholding zero complaints of biased policing by its officers, according to a new internal affairs report.

Of 1,073 such complaints received by the LAPD last year, 869 were ruled “unfounded,” 51 were found to be “demonstrably false,” and 40 were dismissed for “insufficient evidence,” according to the Professional Standards Bureau’s 2021 annual report.

There was “no misconduct” found in two other cases, and officials determined that LAPD employees were not actually involved in 16 cases. In 95 cases, the involved officers went through an “alternative complaint resolution” process that includes mediation between an officer and the accuser, the report found.

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The fact that police upheld none of the complaints is consistent with past years. In 2020, it upheld none of the 764 allegations of bias by officers. Of 734 complaints alleging biased policing in 2019, zero also were sustained.

For years, activists have pointed to such outcomes as evidence that the LAPD does not take complaints about bias by officers seriously, and in fact operates with intentional bias. Other data have shown that Latino and Black residents have been disproportionately affected by certain enforcement tactics in recent years, including vehicle and pedestrian stops.

On Tuesday, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah said the latest data show the department is simply not addressing the problem of racism and bias in its ranks.

“This has been what they’ve done every single year,” she said. “They claim that there’s never been a single instance of racial bias in LAPD, when everyone on the street knows the opposite to be true.”

Concerns have also been raised by police oversight officials in recent years, including members of the civilian Police Commission, where the latest annual report was presented Tuesday. And police officials also have acknowledged that the process for assessing such complaints is problematic.

In a statement to The Times, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that despite “more than a decade of efforts” to improve the process, “the current means of investigating community members’ complaints of bias policing is unsatisfactory for everyone involved.”

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Moore said the department has taken steps to ensure “full and complete investigations, independent oversight of the adjudications of those investigations to ensure they are fair, and implementation of body-worn videos and digital in-car videos to better capture what occurred on both sides of the camera.”

He said those steps “have improved investigations as well as adjudications and the department’s ability to point to specific evidence for the basis for the officers’ actions,” but have been unable to prove “what role, if any, conscious or subconscious bias or stereotypes played in the officer’s actions taken.”

Moore said the LAPD goes “to significant lengths to weed out any such person whether it’s during their background [check] to come onto the department or once on the job,” and that officers go through ongoing “implicit bias training.” In addition, he said, the department is searching for “more effective means” to address bias complaints and build community trust.

“I recognize identifying and rooting out systemic or an individual’s bias or stereotype is a critical component of building that trust and remain committed to pursuing [and] identifying other strategies in this critical area,” Moore said.

Abdullah said Moore is “good at offering flowery words,” but that the data make clear nothing is being done to hold officers accountable.

“It’s really important that we’re clear that LAPD engages in racism on the daily and on multiple levels,” Abdullah said. “Any Black person walking the streets will tell you that when they see police, they feel the target that’s on their backs.”

Bias among officers — including racial bias, bias against other protected classes and political or ideological bias — has been a growing source of concern not only in L.A. but nationwide.

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Police officers were among those involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. An investigation by The Times in 2020 found police agencies in California upheld just 49 racial profiling complaints from 2016 to 2019, out of roughly 3,500 allegations filed. A recent state audit of five law enforcement agencies in California — not including the LAPD — found bias among officers toward people of color, immigrants, women and LGBTQ people, and support for far-right extremist groups.

The LAPD has been accused of showing sympathy to far-right protesters, and L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva recently said 80% of his workforce was “conservative and far right.”

During a conversation on the new data Tuesday at the Police Commission meeting, members of the commission asked department officials about the extent to which video was used to corroborate or disprove complaint claims during investigations.

Police officials said video from officers’ body cameras or other sources was used in the majority of investigations, including in most where complaints were determined “unfounded” and all where complaints were determined to be “demonstrably false.”

The commission did not raise the fact that no complaints were upheld by the department. Asked about it directly by The Times, Commission President William Briggs said he was “not satisfied” with that outcome.

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