MORE ON RACIAL PROFILING….I got a few emails about my post on the LAPD racial profiling report that suggested I should take a look not just at the rate that police conducted searches after traffic stops, but at the result of the searches.

The LA Times story didn’t report this, but they did have a link to the raw report, so I decided to go the extra mile and take a look at the figures. Among drivers who were pulled over, here are the percentages who were searched along with the subsequent police action:








3165 ? 4.6%

6428 ? 9.4%

61344 ? 89.8%

1596 ? 2.3%

685 ? 1.0%


6986 ? 18.8%

5771 ? 15.6%

29782 ? 80.3%

1568 ? 4.2%

1357 ? 3.6%


14900 ? 18.9%

9201 ? 11.7%

66501 ? 84.5%

3667 ? 4.7%

1823 ? 2.3%

It turns out that in one sense, the critics are correct: these are hard numbers to draw conclusions from without more information. Still, while some of the figures look less troubling than they do at first glance, others seem to indicate rather strongly that racial profiling is indeed alive and well in Los Angeles. Here’s what I took away:

  • Police searched blacks at about four times the rate of whites, but also found contraband at about four times the rate, which makes the search rate seem defensible on non-racial grounds. On the other hand, they found contraband on Hispanics at only twice the rate of whites, which makes the 4x search rate look pretty dubious.

  • The arrest rates seem even more troubling, since this is a good indication of whether anything serious was going on. For both blacks and Hispanics the search rate is 4x the white search rate, but the arrest rate is only about double. This seems to indicate that the LAPD’s “suspiciousness radar” was tuned rather higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites.

It’s true that data like this needs careful study, certainly something more careful than an amateur like me can give it. On the other hand, it does seem to indicate that the LAPD treats blacks and Hispanics with rather more suspicion than is justified, and race seems to be a part of it.

POSTSCRIPT I: One last comment: my snarky remark about affirmative action in yesterday’s post had a serious side to it: conservatives typically claim that, yes, there is probably still some racism in our society, but the best way for the government to respond is to just set a good example and be absolutely color blind. Eventually society will follow.

But if that’s true, then why isn’t it equally true for racial profiling? The liberal response might be, sure, maybe blacks commit more crimes than whites, but the best way to respond to this is to ignore it and have police act in a completely color blind manner. Eventually the problem will solve itself.

Which is it?

POSTSCRIPT II: There was one other problem analyzing the LAPD report: the numbers were screwy. For example, out of 3,165 whites searched, the box for “nothing found” was checked 3,208 times. This seems unlikely. What’s more, there was no overall number for searches in which something was found, so I had to add up the figures myself ? but it was unclear if that was the right thing to do. Bottom line: take everything here with a grain of salt.

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