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LAPD data programs need better oversight to protect public, inspector general concludes

LAPD data programs need better oversight to protect public, inspector general concludes
LAPD Chief Michel Moore, left, and Richard Tefank, Police Commission executive director, at a July meeting on the use of data in policing. (Irfan Khan Los Angeles)

The Los Angeles Police Department’s computer programs that label people as chronic offenders need more oversight to protect the public from unfair arrests and detentions, a report by the agency’s inspector general concluded.

Inspector General Mark Smith’s 52-page review found officers used inconsistent criteria to identify people with criminal histories who are most likely to commit violent crimes. Department policies should “unequivocally state” that officers must have legal justification in all situations before confronting someone, Smith warned.

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A “person’s status as a designated Chronic Offender should not be used as the basis for any detention or arrest,” Smith wrote.

The report will be presented Tuesday to the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD.

“These tools all evolve as time goes on,” Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said Monday. “It’s a snapshot at one time.”

For months, activists have lambasted the data-driven programs — which use search tools and point scores — saying statistics tilt toward racial bias and result in heavier policing of blacks and Latinos.

“We have very serious concerns about this audit,” said Hamid Khan, a coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. “Who is watching the shop? What is going on?”

He called on the Police Commission to dismantle the programs because they “unfairly harm” those labeled as chronic offenders.

In July, Police Chief Michel Moore told the commission he supported a review. He acknowledged that the programs are imperfect and that the department must convince residents that data is used properly.

Smith’s review came after Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill raised concerns about the programs. She wanted to know the costs and benefits of data-based policing.

For violent crime, the department draws “LASER” — “Los Angeles’ Strategic Extraction and Restoration”— zones devised by a human crime analyst, not a computer — indicating where many crimes have occurred and where to focus more officers.

Besides the geographic component, the program also seeks to pinpoint specific individuals.

In perhaps the most contentious strategy, each of the department’s 21 geographic areas used data to compile lists or “bulletins” of people calculated to be among the top 12 “chronic offenders.”

The program assigns people points based on prior criminal histories, such as arrest records, gang affiliation, probation and parole status and recent police contacts.

The LAPD suspended that tool and a tracking database in August, after the program created an uproar among civil liberties and privacy groups. Since then, the department has been working to address concerns from the inspector general and others, the review said.

Smith examined data collected prior to the suspension.

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He found 44 percent of chronic offenders had either zero or one arrest for violent crimes. About half had no arrest for gun-related crimes.

The report faulted the LAPD for not using consistent standards to calculate and track the individuals.

The database included people who were in custody and others who had been arrested for only non-violent crimes. Some points were either not entered or appeared to be over- or under-stated, the review found.

Similarly, in many instances, officers didn’t follow the point-based system to label offenders. Instead, more than 100 people had no points and landed on the list based on referrals from detectives or patrol officers, the report stated.

One area bulletin, for example, instructed officers to “develop reasonable suspicion” to stop a person “without clearly stating that the officers would need an independent legal basis in order to justify such a stop.”

Soboroff said he took issue with how the agency classifies chronic offenders and expects the department to make changes to the program.

The report, he said, “definitely shows” the department is doing the right thing in moving to such “precision policing, ” by focusing on neighborhoods and those who commit the most crimes.

The report found that Latinos and African-Americans made up 84 percent of the 233 chronic offenders. A third of them were black — in a city with an African-American population of about 9 percent.

Smith found that the demographic makeup of chronic offenders mirrored the ethnic and racial makeup of those arrested for violent crimes.

Latinos and African-Americans accounted for 83 percent of those arrested for homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault between 2012 and 2018, the report stated.

However, critics say the program leads to profiling and a disproportionate focus on minorities.

“This is a real harm to people,” Khan said.

The LAPD began using data to refine its crime-fighting tactics when Chief William J. Bratton took over in 2002. He started holding crime analysis meetings using “Compstat,” a system to track and map crimes, and the agency adopted predictive policing for property crimes in 2015.

Station captains are still grilled by higher-ups at weekly Compstat meetings about how to reduce crime, and crime statistics for each station are updated online every few weeks.

Smith also reviewed a location-based tool, called PredPol, shorthand for predictive policing.

The software program is designed to predict where and when crimes will likely occur over the next 12 hours. The software’s algorithm examines 10 years of crime data, including the types of crimes, dates, locations and times.

It focuses on identifying and increasing police presence in hotspots called LASER Zones.

Like the other program, Smith found discrepancies with the data collection and could not draw conclusions to “meaningfully evaluate” the program’s overall effectiveness to reduce crime, the report said.

The report recommended that the department “work to review and better understand” the location data and ensure, for example, that police facilities are not included in the zones, which can skew the data.

Times staff writer Cindy Chang contributed to this story.

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